By Joseph Dahut
Picture this, you are stuck in your office dreaming of warmer, exotic destinations teeming with healthy populations of wild, beautiful fish. Can you remember when the only thing you had to worry about was not dropping your cell phone into crystal clear water? Sounds pretty nice right about now, especially in the tight grip of winter that so many of us are struggling with.
The flats are calling your name, and whether you are stuck on your lunch break or at home on a snow day, try whipping up something new, crafty, and reminiscent of your bucket list vacation. This Craft Store Crab pattern is a fly I drafted to combat the expensive crab patterns that often float around in fly shops. This fly’s materials are compiled mostly from craft store purchases or household items, and can be bought in bulk for cheap. Some of the materials, such as the hook and the eyes are not to be purchased at a craft store, but because you are reading this article, I assume you have access to these fairly universal saltwater tying materials.
The first step to tying this fly is running to any craft store by you. Michael’s is the store that happens to be most convenient for me, but many stores make these basic materials readily available. Some of these items may be stashed somewhere in your house, convenience store, or fly tying boxes – don’t be afraid to take a look, there’s only a few materials.
Hook – Saltwater Size 2-4
Thread – Heavy Brown
Dumbbell Eyes – Small/Medium (Gold)
Twine Rope – Dark Brown
Markers – Green & Black
Felt Square – Tan/Dark Brown/Olive
Wrap your thread one quarter of the way down the hook shank.
Secure the dumbbell eyes with tight thread wraps that put the eyes in place. Mix in figure eight wraps to ensure that the eyes don’t move. This will provide weight for the fly, and drop it to the mouths of the feeding bonefish you’ve been eyeing from the edge of the skiff.
Cut three pieces of twine, chenille, or any other ropey, dark-hued material that can act as legs. Wrap one leg that parallels the hook shank, and have the other two create an X that goes across the body of the fly. It is important to remember to make the legs longer than you expect – you can always trim the legs, you can’t add more material once you are done.
In order to fashion the claws for this pattern, you must take a longer piece of whatever material you use for your legs and tie a non slip loop knot, or a Kreh Knot, and leave plenty of room for the claws to poke out in front of the felt body. Tie on the claws, using tight wraps to secure them to the body. Whip finish this fly and add a dot of glue to your finish. From this point on, you will only need glue.
Cut your felt squares to a proportional size to your hook and the crab’s legs. In my model, I cut and shaped two pieces of tan felt the size of a quarter, gluing them together to make a thicker body for the crab. After dotting the top of the body with your desired details (use a permanent marker or paint to detail the top shell with eyes, dots, and any other desired detail), adhere the felt body to the hook and legs you have worked on.
Trim the legs and claws to match the proportions of the hook and body. Consider this step the finishing touches of the fly. Add more glue where it needs to be applied, trim up the claws or legs, and add details with a marker if your crab lacks personality.
Get out there and get into some fish!
You have completed your first Craft Store Crab, a pattern that will bust any slump on the flats or oceans you are fishing. This pattern imitates a range of crab species, and the mind-blowingly simple foundation of the pattern is intentional, making it easy for any angler to match their local crab hatch depending on the fishery they are exploring. Do not be afraid to tweak this fly, totally change it, or even add your own personal touch to it like premade plastic eyes which is a popular modification.
Other fly tying blog posts:
Great content from great anglers and the great books they’ve written
We pride ourselves on our high quality content and photographs. In addition to the great stories told by our anglers and sometimes even our readers, we carefully chose content that is informative and could improve your game. We strive to provide the highest quality content in any fly fishing magazine available. The subscribers of Tail Fly Fishing Magazine are aware of the quality of our contributors and the magnitude of their presence in the fly fishing industry. Just in case you didn’t know how talented they are, we thought we would share this blog with a few great books recently released by past and present Tail contributors.
CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO VISIT THE HOMEPAGE FOR EACH BOOK
A Passion for Permit – Volume 1 & 2
Jonathan Olch has spent decades passionately chasing permit. He has figured out what makes the elusive species tick and how to catch them. And for afraction of the cost of a single day of guided fishing, you can learn from the vast experience of this world-class angler.
A Passion for Permit by Jonathan Olch is the latest in the “Masters on the Fly” series published by Wild River Press. Olch’s impressive two-volume book runs more than 1,100 pages.
Share in the collective knowledge of more than 20 global permit angling experts. Learn about the fascinating world of the permit—the most sought-after prize of the flats—and eight of its closely related cousin-species you may have never heard about before. Learn about the finicky nuances of the permit through its anatomy, biology, food sources and preferred habitats—highlighted by superb imagery. Indulge in the strategies, techniques, fully illustrated essential casting tips, closeup color photos of 100-plus fly patterns, detailed tying instructions for new innovative flies, and anecdotes of the author and his expert guests as you are escorted around the world’s global tropics in pursuit of permit.
In the tradition of Andy Mill’s famous A Passion for Tarpon and many other Wild River Press sporting titles, the author takes you inside the tackle rooms and aboard the skiffs of many legends of the sport. Sit in on compelling and colorful conversations you simply won’t find anywhere else with:
- Aaron Adams
- Bob Branham
- Dustin Huff
- Steve Huff
- Nathaniel Linville
- Chris McCreedy
- Winston Moore
- Peter Morse
- Lincoln Westby
A Passion for Permit is by far the most thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written book ever published on the subject. Even if success with permit is a goal still on your angling horizon, the tips and tactics you will learn within these informative pages about saltwater fishing will immediately make you a better bonefish and tarpon angler. This full and complete book is nothing less than a master class in flats fishing.
GT – A Fly Fishers Guide to Giant Trevally
Catching a giant trevally (or ‘GT’) on a fly rod is the pinnacle of flats fishing: highly challenging, requiring skill and preparation. This is the first comprehensive guide to giant trevally fishing on the fly.
The giant trevally is an apex predator, and the way it operates is nothing less than brutal. These ‘gangsters of the flats’ are like packs of hoodlums marauding across the atolls and shallow estuaries. Hunting for trevally in the harsh environment they inhabit needs a certain resolve. The flyfisher’s first encounter with a giant trevally will be an electrifying experience. A GT can destroy tackle and ego, leaving all in its wake.
But once you’ve caught one, GT flyfishing is an experience that any angler will want to repeat.
Fly Fishing the Southeast Coast
Gordon Churchill has been an enthusiastic angler all of his life, ever since he was little and would go fishing with his father in the lakes of upstate New York. Churchill shares his tips, tricks, and passion for fishing in Fly Fishing the Southeast Coast. Learn that you don’t have to travel to the Bahamas or any other far exotic island to find the perfect catch. Many ideal places are right here in the United States, including Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, and St. Augustine, Florida.
In order to fly fish successfully, a fisherman must know what kind of species he or she wants, what rod and line combo works best, what flies to stock, and of course when and where to be.
For each chapter, Churchill gives advice on where to find specific species of fish, from the striped bass in the southeast region of the Roanoke River to mahimahi in the Gulf Stream, forty miles off of Morehead City, North Carolina, as well as specifics on the approach of catching each species, as they’re all quite different. While full of tips and advice, Churchill makes it clear that, if ever fishing on the coast, you must be involved in a conservation effort. The environment and fish are constantly in danger, so make sure to always be aware and put your planet first!
Top Saltwater Flies is certain take your personal fly tying to a whole new level. Drew Chicone will have you tying like a master. Top Saltwater Flies comes in three extraordinary, handsome volumes:
- Bonefish: 296 pages
- Tarpon: 300 pages
- Permit: 260 pages
- 8.5 x 11 inches on quality coated stock
- Special laminated hardcovers for durability
- Patented Wire-O binding open flat on your tying desk
- Printed in the United States by American craftsmen
“Whether it’s camaraderie, creativity, art—or simply a device to catch more fish—people are passionate about tying flies for a lot of different reasons. For me, it’s all those reasons and more. Tying is an important part of my daily routine. And teaching others the art of fly tying is one of my favorite activities.”
By Capt. John McMurray
Was the reduction managers finally implemented too little too late?
Are you a striper nut? Do you love to throw flies at cruising fish on crystal clear flats or at big stripers busting baitfish on the surface? Yeah, man… me too. But if you’ve spent more than a few days on the water in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to find fish.
Without a doubt, the coastal striper population is changing. There aren’t many anglers around anymore who don’t agree that there’s been a significant decline. Of course there are still fish to chase, but what we don’t have is the consistent striped bass fishery that many of us built businesses and lifestyles around.
Why? Well, despite a commercial industry and a subset of the recreational one intent on killing a lot of fish, it isn’t entirely due to fishing.
The stock has experienced over a decade of poor recruitment (a fancy way of saying spawning success). Surveys done in the Chesapeake Bay, which produces around 80% of the coastal stock have shown average to well below average young-of- the-year numbers since 2003, with the anomalous exception of
2011. 2012 was one of the lowest on record.
A reasonable person would understand that if the stock isn’t at the level it once was, you probably shouldn’t keep fishing on it at the same level as when it was abundant. But unfortunately, managers sometimes have a hard time understanding simple things.
The latest assessment on striped bass was released in 2013. It said in no uncertain terms that the population was trending downward. Too many striped bass were being killed, overfishing had occurred repeatedly over the past decade, and it would be considered “overfished” by this year. The agency that manages striped bass – a consortium of states called the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) – were presented with those findings in October of 2013.
One would think they would have accepted the new assessment and taken immediate action to reduce harvest, but ASMFC doesn’t really work that way. The politics of killing lots of fish – despite warnings – so that a few special interests can continue to make money, have traction there. Surprisingly enough, there is no law preventing the Commission from allowing overfishing indefinitely.
To their credit, a few Commissioners (notably those from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts) advocated for an immediate reduction, but there was plenty of push-back. Over the next 8 months, the ASMFC striped bass board met twice and had ridiculous debates on whether or not conservation action was necessary. Short-sighted Commissioners argued that the striper population was fine and that the science was bad, all while the great majority of the fishing public
pleaded for action.
Finally, a year after it was released, ASMFC voted to act on the assessment. The Technical Committee put together a set of measures that would theoretically reduce the number of fish being killed by 25%, recommending a coastal bag limit of one fish at 28” or greater. This was a significant change from the two fish at 28” coastal limit we had been fishing under during the years that lead up to the decline.
While it wasn’t the reduction some of us were hoping for – a big part of the angling community was advocating 1 at 32” – this still sounded pretty good for a management body with a history of doing to little, too late…until it was made clear that even under the best scenario the proposed management measures had only a 50% chance of actually working. However, even this proved to be too much for Commissioners who hemmed and hawed, complaining that such measures would cause economic hardship for the charter and party boats and of course commercial fishermen in their states. So… they worked at weakening the already deficient proposed harvest cuts which may have actually increased commercial landings. Instead of requiring a 25% reduction from what commercial fishermen actually caught, they based the reduction on the 2013 quota. Since commercial fishermen generally land considerably less than their quota each year, there isn’t much if any reduction here. If all of the quota is landed this year, the number of fish they kill will actually exceed 2013. Chances of success dropped even further when Commissioners made a deal with the Chesapeake states and allowed them to cut harvest by just 20.5%.
Then, they allowed for what’s called “Conservation Equivalency” – the notion that states can create their own regulations as long as they, at least on paper, achieve the same 25% reduction. The charter/party boat fleet began lobbying their states to come up with arguments proving that killing two stripers per trip, of some alternate size, won’t do more damage than taking just one. Of course, intuitively, killing two wouldn’t seem to achieve the same reduction as killing one. But on paper, if you
increase the size, it can. On the water… not so much.
Fortunately, the conservation-minded recreational community came out in droves to state public hearings and most states, save New Jersey (generally the least conservation-minded state on the East Coast) and Delaware, went with the one fish bag limit.
Too little, too late?
Even after it became so blatantly obvious that conservation action was necessary, it took an entire year for the ASMFC to move. More importantly of course, will the action they finally took really prevent the stock from becoming overfished? Unlikely. And there are still no real measures that will actually rebuild
it. Not to mention, the measures to reduce fishing mortality are actually more likely to fail than succeed.
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. 2011 surveys showed good numbers of young-of the-year in the Chesapeake. We should start seeing some of those fish along the coast soon, as they supposedly start to leave the Bay around 24”. And if we get a few good year classes in the coming years, things could turn around (rumor is that the 2015 class is a good one). But in my opinion, ASMFC could have, and should have done more. This is an extremely important fishery for me, for us, for the entire recreational fishing community. While the commercial and party/charter boat industry can probably survive on a leaner striped bass
resource, the majority of resource users can’t.
A healthy and abundant striped bass resource creates a lot more opportunity. Not just for us, but for everyone! Because it spreads out…and we find fish up on the flats, in the salt-marshes, up along the beach. So flyrodders, surfcasters etc. can actually catch fish every now and then. The bottom line is abundance equals more opportunity for more people. And there is a much greater economic loss that comes from a depleted striped bass resource than from tightening regulations when
the stock dips.
It’s pretty simple. If there are less fish in the water, less folks will book trips, buy tackle, travel, stay in hotels and eat at restaurants at popular striped bass destinations such as Montauk or Cape Cod. Managers need to understand this. We need to tell them.
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The Miracles of Fall
By Bob Rifchin
After nights on the beach visiting with nocturnal striped bass, it’s time to take advantage of the first late season opportunities in August with the arrival of “Funny Fish”– – bonito and false albacore. My kayak has spent the darkest hours perched on the back of my truck awaiting its trip to a new beach. Armed with my favorite 8 weight, I paddle into the waning darkness to the spot where I expect to find the fish at false dawn.
Those who chase the speedsters of late summer are usually up well before first light to find “Bones” and “Fat Alberts” slashing through hapless schools of baitfish (bay
anchovies, peanut bunker, and silversides). On Cape Cod, this happens along the south-side beaches from Falmouth to Centerville where anglers are perched on jetties or head to sea in kayaks and small boats. Any opportunity to cast to these fish is brief as they reveal their location for only a few seconds before disappearing again into the depths. All the while anglers hope their fly is the right imitation for these picky creatures and that they have chosen a spot where the fish will appear. Those who have not chosen well relocate and try not to spook them. Run-and- gun attempts to get close to breaking fish are seldom profitable.
Both bonito and false albacore are like a drug and they draw people from their beds day after day because the strikes are vicious and always a surprise. This morning’s fish runs a hundred yards with the reel screaming in protest. The fish suddenly turns toward me so that I’m forced to tuck the rod under my arm and strip line with both hands to control the slack. Then, it goes deep and slugs it out, circling the kayak. Being in the right place at the right time takes experience and luck. For a day like this, having friends at different beaches with cell phones is a plus. You have to find the fish and everyone profits from shared information!
In two or three weeks, mornings spent fishing for false albacore finally slow, as the little tuna (really more closely related to the mackerel) become less abundant. They
linger well into October but I finally opt for a few hours of sleep before work. However, shorter days and the lower angle of the September sun have made changes. Large numbers of baitfish have moved close to shore followed by hungry stripers and bluefish.
Peanut bunker, silversides and mackerel join the sand eels that have spent the summer near shore. Night is still the best for bass, but more daytime activity is beginning as well. The fish have travel on their minds and they are looking for lots of food. The big bass often shadow the mackerel, particularly close to shore where there is other bait as well. I stayed all night at a favorite beach in hope of being in the right place as migrating stripers followed their yearly routes south. You don’t know if these location choices are right since the bass are here today and gone in an instant.
On this night, there was only one small bluefish. Day was approaching when suddenly I heard something to my right. Baitfish held tight against the rocky breakwater as I moved into position in the half-light of a foggy Cape Cod dawn. As most were peanut bunker, I chose a realistic imitation crafted to represent the same shape and coloration as the natural baitfish. I drifted the fly along the craggy underwater stones where they joined the sandy beach allowing the long-shore current to sweep my fly along the rocks. With each cast through the shower of frightened bait I expected a strike and was not disappointed when a fish ate the fly and ran seaward. It was a powerful fish and I expected to see at least a thirty-inch striper as I guided it to quiet water. The fish was only twenty inches, but was energized by the cooler water of early fall. After two runs and a bit of dogged resistance, I was looking for the next one.
In the quiet of a pre-dawn early morning as the tide nears its peak, the unique silence of the salt pond is broken only by the rain-like sounds of thousands of fleeing
baitfish. They move across the surface in waves to escape the huge mouths of striped bass that follow them through the clear shallows, creating a maze of explosive washtub-sized swirls as evidence of their presence. It’s the end of a night’s action that seldom ever is visible in the light of day except during the fall migration. The salt ponds and small inland bays along the south side of the Cape are special places unknown to most anglers where stripers congregate to feed in shallow water. At night, fish are often at your feet or all around you and often continue well into the day.
It was an overcast dawn on the flood tide, the air heavy with the threat of rain as I slid the kayak into the water. The small opening to the sea from which both water and stripers came was nearly still and the surface disturbances in the shallows told me the fish were feeding. I was very late for the night fishing I’d planned but it looked like luck was with me. My first cast placed my silverside fly in the submerged grass at the edge of the first small indentation along the bank. My jerky retrieve was met by the visible wake of acharging striper moving through the subterranean forest. The grass parted next to the fly; there was no pause when the fish felt steel and bolted toward the middle of the open pond wildly trying to escape to deeper and safer waters. For two hours, fish after fish took the fly. Then my luck faded. With the dropping tide I was sure the bait flushing out of the pond drew the bass to the flats below so I followed. There in broad daylight I saw a blitz
in the shallows and without thinking I cast into the fray. The strike was hard and immediate; a scant moment later the line went slack. The clean cut at the end of the
leader told the story and I scrambled to add wire in front of the replacement silverside fly. These were the supreme opportunists of the Cape’s waters – bluefish or “Yellow-Eyed-Devils” – as some prefer to call them. The action was fast and furious for about half-an-hour, then they were gone as quickly as they appeared, looking for more baitfish. Finding blues is like locating stripers, though they can often be found in more humane daylight hours.
Work has a habit of intervening in more important “stuff” like fishing and it took a week before I got a late afternoon opportunity to get on the water again. I started at
the Cape Cod Canal with my binoculars looking for birds or surface activity, then cruised from spot-to- spot along the north side of the peninsula. In the fall my rods are always in my truck. Any time that I am near the water is an opportunity to look for fish as they become more elusive with the passing days.
It was late morning when I first saw the creek on an extended trip to the hardware store. It was a pretty sight in the light, open and flat with green grasses surrounding a moving bluish ribbon of water. The air was full of birds moving off to feed, and little Sandpipers worked the beach just upstream. Gulls wheeled through the air crying out as they dove for baitfish. The mouth of the waterway where I stood was guarded on one side by a substantial breakwater and a sharply sloping rocky beach on my side of the inlet.
There were bigger swirls amongst the baitfish and another late season prayer wasanswered. I slipped into the water and began casting my sand-eel imitation. The sinking line took the fly deep as it swung past me and I began a slow twitching retrieve. Two strips later and a solid strike told me this was indeed a good place.
There are all sorts of possibilities when fishing the cusp of the sea and one can never be sure what will come next. I knew upon my return home, that I could find a way to explain the wet legs on my pants, though the connection with the small box of screws from that hardware store still on my front seat hadn’t yet come to me!
Tarpon: Big Pine Key
by John Melfi (originally published in Tail #2, November 2012)
I’d been on a bad run for at least six months, or probably more like a year. A fish-drought. I couldn’t catch a fish if my rent depended on it.
At best an occasional bluegill or little stocked rainbow trout. As for the saltwater, whenever I could get there, mostly what I found was little snappers
and random small fish that I couldn’t identify and can’t name. It was depressing. I bet this kind of drought happens to everyone but Trey Combs, but still.
So one early-spring day in my desperate snow-bound Brooklyn I got a phone call.
A casting instructor, friend, and all-around fishing mentor, called to say that one of the best guides in the Florida Keys had a sudden opening out at Big Pine Key for some prime tarpon fishing. I couldn’t imagine paying for a trip to Big Pine Key! I couldn’t possibly afford it!
A few weeks later, I arrived in Big Pine.
The night before our first day on the water, I talked to my guide on the phone. He said some things that, if you’re a fisherman with any seasons, you immediately recognize as ridiculous: “conditions are shaping up to be perfect;” “the tarpon are in thick;” “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen better conditions.”
So in the morning we went out. Within 10 minutes we were over dozens of huge fish, animals that looked like gray railroad ties with fins. An impossible number.
It was like a second meniscus of 100-pound fish cruising just under the surface. I don’t think we even saw a fish under 90 pounds but lots of them were around 120 pounds easily.
This was my first tarpon trip. There were more tarpon than I ever even hope to see in one place again. Sure enough, I’ve been after tarpon since this trip and have felt lucky to see one or two fish a day so this trip was special. I spent just about every moment of the four days casting over these five-foot-long fish. It was unnerving, and hugely exciting. These fish were a bit tricky. Some wanted a palolo worm imitation while some wanted a chartreuse toad or whatever. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for what individual fish wanted to eat; fly selection was based on my guide’s intuition and trial-and-error.
But no matter what and you’ve heard this before, presentation was key. Put the fly in front of the fish and swim it at an angle away from them. This was what worked. Swim the fly across the fish and the odds plummet. Retrieve it toward them and forget it, they’re violently gone.
We got tons of takes. A tarpon’s take is often surprisingly subtle – the massive fish just comes up behind the fly and then the fly is gone. Nothing savage about it, in most cases, just beautiful efficiency.
But the next few seconds are not subtle. When you strike the fish, it responds with outrageous, unbelievable power. The water in the fish’s general area seems as if it’s being strafed with a barrage of artillery. Huge explosions of water where the fish is, big holes where the fish just was, all this in clear, shallow water. It’s incomprehensible until you’ve done it.
Over my four days of fishing, I hooked & jumped probably three dozen fish. I brought maybe six of those to the boat. Hooks fell out, rods broke, leaders broke, sharks
threatened, the usual stuff. It was exhilarating, the fly fishing equivalent of skydiving in my opinion.
Every plane ride home from a trip I sit back and plan the next one.
I can’t wait to do it again.
ADDICTION :PART 1
ON MY FIRST CAST TO A BONEFISH
I HOOKED A BONEFISH.
We rolled out of Black point Marina, into a skinny water eel grass flat which was as smooth as a bowl of melted glass. The sun was just starting to surface in its awesome orange glow, illuminating the horizon. We saw spiders the size of birds high up in the mangroves in the early morning light. In fact, there may have been a bird caught in one of the webs. What am I doing here? We traveled by canoe through a very small creek. It was shallow, muddy, smelled like sulfur and there were lots of bugs. Again, what was I thinking this morning?
It fed into a small cove named Black Point located about 10 miles south of Miami Beach. It did get better. As I was admiring the sunrise and right as we entered the creek mouth onto the flats, the guide whispers; “see them? There they are!”
I was nervous, very nervous. I had just started saltwater fly fishing after being a bait chunker since age 4, frankly, my fly casting wasn’t that good. He said; “I’ll get you closer, get ready to cast.” My heart was racing at about 120 beats per minute, I felt my palms getting sweaty and the grip on my cork handle start to loosen. The cork was indented from the raw pressure of my grip
but it just didn’t seem tight enough so I just kept squeezing. I felt my body getting heavier and heavier and there was little I could do about it.
“12 o’clock, about 45 feet, see them?” I did, there were 6 or 7 big bonefish right in front of me, tailing, I’d never seen them tail at such short range. This was my chance to catch my first Florida bonefish on a fly, I was so excited, I could taste success.
The first cast was completely flubbed of course, throwing the fly about 20 feet short and about 30 feet to the left of the school. I picked up my line using the water haul technique, which at that moment, I really didn’t know existed. Somehow, I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or just plain luck but I fired a 40 foot laser into the center of this small school of tailing bones. I saw a flash of silver and heard my guide scream, he ate it, set it ….set it!
So I pulled back on the line and set the 7 pound bonefish on the hook. My rod bent like I had never seen it bend before. Probably because I never had a fish of that brawn on it before. With reel screaming, the mighty bone pulled off about 150 feet of line in a blazing initial run lasting only seconds. My guide bellows, “you are the luckiest guy in the world, no one catches a bonefish on their first cast.” It was actually my second cast, historically speaking. While completing his statement, as quick as it was hooked, it was gone. My knot gave way, leaving a pig-tailed leader shooting back at the canoe. I quickly retrieved my line and the guide grabbed it for a closer look. “You need to check your knots, man….”you just lost a huge fish because of a knot.”
I had a pit in my stomach and for the first time since I was 4 years old, I didn’t want to fish anymore. That was probably good because there weren’t any more fish that morning. I felt like a complete failure but there was a part of me that thought, well if you did it once, you can do it again. This optimism is what kept me coming back.
Finally near Matheson Hammock in Miami it happened again. It was the same scenario, but I had been fishing without a guide for about a week. I launched my kayak from the public beach on a pebble shore which was not too far from a channel. It was overcast and warm for the time of year, the tides were very dramatic and there was rain on the horizon. Only lightning would make me leave the flats, especially after waking up at 4:30 am to get on the water by sunrise. Wouldn’t you know it, there was lightning on the distant horizon amid the rain. I knew I didn’t have much time.
I had my favorite 8 weight ready, handle at my feet with the tip off the bow, this time I tied my own leader and checked my knots twice. I even tied my own fly, Peterson’s spawning shrimp, my go to bonefish fly at that time. While poling my kayak over a deep boat channel, I saw something in the distance. There they were, 6 or 7 bonefish tailing in about a foot of water on an eel grass flat. They were fat and happy. It looked like the same school as before but the chance of that was seriously nonexistent.
Here we go again. I pole with a rope looped around my wrist. The rope is tied to the anchor line which allows me to quickly loop the rope around my push pole and gently drop it behind the kayak to drag behind my vessel, well out of the way. I pushed hard just one more time to get into a better position. I looped my rope, dropped the pole, picked up the fly rod and attempted to visualize my attack.
This time I was ready. Calmer, more experienced, and a much better caster, but still no bones to date so the nervousness persisted to a significant degree. In this moment, you just accept the tachycardia and sweaty palms knowing that the hunt is on. I began my cast, very sloppy and too fast of a backcast which seems to be the norm while casting when fish are actually present. I threw a 35 foot lob which hit the water like a rock, just to the right of the tailing fish.
Fortunately, they were just starting to move right. It was more luck than skill honestly.
There was very little light, almost no light. In fact, I’m quite surprised I saw them in the first place. I couldn’t see what was going on but before I could react, one took the fly and there was a fish on.
Again the rod had a ferocious bend and a crazy bounce to it as I held it over my head.
But this one wasn’t as big as the previous bonefish hooked. The fish took off into the boat channel that I had just crossed and before I knew it, it was well into the “holy crap” part of my backing. Over 250 feet of backing gone and at no point did I have any control of the fish.
Suddenly, it stopped.
My heart sunk as I thought the fish was lost. In frustration, I began to reel as fast as my hand could move and watched the kayak start to drift toward the direction of the fishes run. It was still on! In minutes I had retrieved my backing and was back to fly line but at that point the resting fish recovered.
Another screaming run begins which put me back into “holy crap” territory but this time I noticed that the lightning, that was off in the horizon, is much closer and now the rain began to fall. Here I am on a kayak in Biscayne Bay, in a lightning storm fighting a bonefish that just won’t make it easy. I debated whether I should break it off and head for shore before the storm got too bad but my ego got the best of me and refused to let it go. I was tired of failure and frustration and I was going for broke. Succeed or die trying was the motto that day, which in retrospect was an incredibly stupid decision.
I started to pressure the fish hard, really hard. At any moment I was expecting him to break off and become just another “almost” story. To my amazement, he began to wilt. He lost his mojo and any desire to fight. Again my heart raced, I could taste it, success was almost mine. Within five minutes, my leader was to the tip and I had a bonefish, my first bonefish to the side of the kayak, he had surrendered. Soaking wet from the rain, not remotely concerned about the lightning I pulled him out of the water, so excited that I dropped my rod into the water but it didn’t matter.
There it was, mirrored silver scales, blackish green stripes, unrealistic pink lips and my Peterson’s spawning shrimp stuck in its top lip. It was slippery, slimy & stinky, but it was a bonefish, caught on a fly, finally in my hands. It was glorious! The most beautiful fish I had ever seen at that moment. I actually just stared
at it for some time taking in the details before I realized it was raining hard, there was lightning nearby and this poor bonefish couldn’t breathe. I lunged for the camera for a quick photo of my trophy but to my dismay, the battery was dead and to add more insult I dropped the fish into the water and stepped on the fly.
One rookie mistake after another, they seem to never end……I can be such a bonehead. But after months of frustration, repeated failure and countless hours of research and investigation, I had just caught my first Florida bonefish on a fly. After finally catching this fish, I realized that this was more than just an obsession. Not only that, but perseverance in the face of constant failure & determination to succeed had turned my obsession to an addiction. A healthy one of course but this was the start of something bigger, the start of a fly fishing magazine…..Tail Fly Fishing Magazine.