© 2016 Grace Baldwin

Chasing the Silver King

For spring break this year my friends and I planned a trip to South Beach, Miami as our last college spring break. So on March 19th a big group of us, nine girls, flew to Miami for a couple days of tanning on the beach and clubbing at night. (Pictured below, five us at Wynwood Walls).

945260_10209424122783709_3288906444528562906_n

While down there I set my sites on going fly fishing for Tarpon. Through a friend I got the name of a well-regarded guide and booked a night fishing trip in Miami Beach and a day fishing trip in the everglades. The night fishing trip ended up being cancelled due to weather. But my parents decided to come to Miami after my friends left, so I was able to book a second day fishing trip for my Dad and I.

The first trip was on Tuesday March 22nd with Captain Bob Lemay ([email protected]). My friend Tyler and I went together. We met Bob at Dion’s Quik Mart on North Krome Street at 6 am and then drove with Bob the rest of the way, about an hour, into the everglades.

m_everg2

Everglades National Park is surprisingly massive. About 90 miles east to west and 90 miles north to south of all protected land and a single road running through the park. We launched the boat at Flamingo visitor center which is right at the edge between Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Going to school in Maine, Tyler and I were both shocked at how freezing we were! The boat ride to our spot was about 40 minutes or so, and the day we fished was particularly chilly. My toes and hands started to feel numb on the first long boat ride.

The first spot we fished was a small creek where Bob said a client had hooked 9 tarpon and landed 3 the tuesday before. We saw maybe one or two tarpon roll but not enough activity for us to fish the creek for long. We checked some other spots but due to the cold weather the water temps were around 63 degrees which is too cold for the finicky tarpon that like above 70 degree water.

IMG_4933

We headed to different spots to fish. Tyler caught a nice little bar jack on the fly and a speckled trout on a spin rod. Sadly that was the extent of fish we landed that day. The water temperature was so cold that the tarpon were not very active. We did see a lot of snook and red fish but didn’t hook any, but had some good bites. While fishing we saw a lot of dolphin and two lemon sharks!

Despite not much luck fishing, it was a wonderful day and I really enjoyed getting to know Bob, who has been guiding the everglades for 20 years and used to guide for bonefish in the keys. Bob contained lots of interesting stories both about fishing the everglades and his experience as a policeman in Miami during the Cocaine Wars. My favorite story Bob said was the time that he was fishing in the everglades and his client hooked into a hammerhead shark. After fighting the hammerhead shark for some time the shark suddenly was eaten by a bull shark! It is a shark eat shark world in the everglades.

IMG_4935

On Friday March 25th I headed back to the everglades with my Dad. Bob was booked, so instead upon Bob’s recommendation, we fished with Captain Jason Sullivan of Rising Tide Charters. We met Jason at 5 am at Dion’s and then again headed to Flamingo to launch. The morning already felt completely different than the Tuesday I had fished with Tyler. Instead of low temperature and high winds we were greeted with hot humidity and glassy water. As we were first driving out to the first spot, the water was so still it looked like the sky and water were one (pictured below).

IMG_5139

We went to one spot to fish and saw a couple tarpon roll and fished for a little and then checked some other spots before driving to what Jason called “Tarpon Bay.” When we got to tarpon bay we saw tons and tons of tarpon rolling and jumping. Jason said it was some of the most tarpon he had ever seen! We started fishing with Jason’s 12 wt which was definitely tricky since I had never fished with anything heavier than a 9 wt.

It was amazing watching all of the tarpon rolling, tailing, and leaping out of the water. The hardest part about fishing for the tarpon was being able to get the fly right in front of them and in the right direction the fish was moving. After seeing a tarpon or a couple tarpon roll we would place our fly a little past the fish in the direction we thought they were moving, but the tarpon will not hit anything that isn’t right in front of them and moving away so it was difficult to get the fly just right.

I fished for a while and then my dad fished after. We were doing pretty well but had not hooked any yet. Jason took the rod to give my dad and I a tip about casting. He cast the rod once and took two strips, and suddenly a massive tarpon leapt out of the water! We all started laughing because Jason wasn’t even casting for a fish he had just cast out once and immediately got hooked!

Jason handed me the rod to fight the fish which ended up being the most memorable 30 or so minutes of my spring break! Jason taught me to bend the rod sideways to the left or right to keep tension on the tarpon (shown below). Based on which way the tarpon was moving I would bend the rod to the left or to the right to keep tension. We could tell when the tarpon was about to jump out of the water because there would suddenly be slightly less tension on the line. When the tarpon jumped I had to point the rod right at the water and let the tarpon take line so that the line wouldn’t break and the hook would stay in.

IMG_5180

IMG_5175

It took a ton of focus and strength to fight the tarpon who took 6 or 7 good leaps into the air. At one moment the reel of the brand new 12 wt helios orvis rod came out! It was about 1 inch away from falling overboard on the deck when I snatched the reel and then Jason helped me get the reel back in. I was sure we were going to lose the fish, and reel, when it fell onto the deck, but it ended up being okay.

A couple times the fish would swim to the back of the boat or underneath the boat or around to the front. Those were scary moments because I had to keep tension on the line but also give enough slack so the line didn’t break and simultaneously run to the back of the boat, where Jason would help switch the rod to the other side. At one point the fish swam directly underneath the middle of the boat so fast that the rod started to curve beneath the boat! But I was able to get the rod around the front and it was okay. IMG_5176

IMG_5173

After 30 minutes or so we go the fish to the boat. It was amazing how I could totally feel that he was completely tuckered out. I always think that is crazy when the fish goes from being so active and fighting so hard to just stalling in the water. When I first saw the fish I was amazed at how big it was! Jason thought it was a good 60 lbs.

IMG_5209

IMG_5165

12239685_10201622952051682_6992519863582180258_n

After getting some good pictures with the fish Jason held the fish by the mouth and had my dad turn on the motor and then we dragged the fish a little up stream to revive it, and then the tarpon slapped his big tail and swam triumphantly away.

IMG_5152

I learned so much just from one fight against a fish that large on a fly rod. Understanding the extreme amount of tension to keep on a fish of that size as well as the amount of tension a 12 wt rod can handle was a really good learning experience. As well as anticipating when the fish was turning, running, and jumping was crucial to successfully landing the fish. My dad and I both got a lot better at seeing and hearing the tarpon and our casting improved a ton over the course of the day.

After landing the tarpon we fished a couple different spots alternating between spin rods and fly rods. We fished for tarpon, snook, red fish, and baby tarpon along the mangroves, as well as speckled trout, snapper, and lady fish.

IMG_5169

Overall both trips to the everglades were truly unforgettable. Just experiencing the unique environment and fishing totally different water from the streams of Maine and long island sound was very memorable. Fighting the tarpon was so much fun, and just made me hungry for more fishing!

IMG_5178