chapter 1: arrival
i arrived in florida saturday the 18th sometime around noon. it was freaking hot out. a huge difference from minnesota. the sun seemed to just suck the life straight out of you. i got the rental car and headed to my destination. boca grande. now this trip was to visit my grandmother but that doesnt mean i didnt pack 6 spinning/casting rods 8 reels 2 tackle boxes and a fly rod. i planned on doing a little fishing while here. on the way to the condo i made the mistake of stopping at a subway in not the nicest of neighborhoods. but who wouldve guessed a subway on martin luther king st. would be that bad? i got stared at and had a few names thrown my way but i got my sandwich and got the hell out. i stopped at one more place on the way back to grab a package of frozen finger mullets. this place was odd. i mean really odd. its whiddens marina located back in the mangroves on the island. now this place looks like something out of a movie. all sorts of trinkets and wierd stuff everywhere. just imagine a voodoo practicing redneck witch with a severe hoarding problem who owns a marina and that sums this place up. there were cages with goats, squirrels and ducks, old beat up dolls that looked as if theyd been dragged up from the bottom of the ocean seemed to stare my way as i aproached the place i saw even more oddities cactuses with nails pounded through them, antique fishing poles, lisence plates nailed to the palm trees. i got out and went towards the door old broken plates and rusted silverware glinted in the sun as i walked up the cracked rotten wood of the path to the front door. i went inside to see one frail old woman standing in the corner and another obese lady sitting on a power scooter with 3 kids in her lap watching jerry springer on a tv that looked ready to just fall to pieces. the lady in the chair scowelled at me and with a harsh yell asked "can i help ya son" i quietly picked out the bag of mullet and handed her the 3 dollars. she seemed to just stare at me the entire time. i left and got to the condo. this place was perfect. it was a small condo with a great shoreline right outside the door. i got settled in for a moment then went out to the beach to fish. it started off slow i didnt really have any bites but once the sun went down everything seemed to go nuts! i pulled in a lifelister dusky shark then several more duskies right after that one. these sharks fight hard. i did not get into any larger ones but the ones i was catching still pulled like crazy and were an absolute blast to catch. after catching nothing but sharks for a while i decided to change baits. i found a crab walking around the surf and chased it down. i pulled a hook through the back of it and tossed it into the surf. within 30 seconds i was hooked up again. i began to bring the fish to my feet and noticed it was another shark. now i didnt mind catching sharks but it was getting kinda old catching the same kind of fish over and over. i pulled it to shore and realized it was a bonnethead shark not a dusky like the ones before. this had me very excited not only had i gotten a shark for my lifelist i now had two sharks for my lifelist! after a quick picture i got it back in the water. i wanted to try crabs more but couldnt find any so i switched back to mullet. right away i hooked up on a smaller fish. yet another lifelister was on shore in seconds. hardhead catfish. i got my pictures and back into the water it went. after a while the bite slowed down and the bugs got bad so i went in. the next morning i decided to try out the fly rod so i walked the shore throwing a small streamer out and stripping it back in. on one of my first casts i made i caught a new lifelister an inshore lizard fish. absolutely crazy looking things. happy with that i continued on. a few casts later and another new lifelister was on the line. a gulf whiting. next cast and bam another lifer, pinfish. i tossed the pinfish into a small bag to use it for bait later and continued to walked even further trying to catch one of the many needlefish i saw cruise by but had no luck. i sighted one giant probably over 20 inches and tossed a cast towards it fast stripping the fly over it. the fish gave chase then took off the other way. i tried the same presentation again only to have a large bluefish grab the fly and snap the line. there goes the only fly i brought with me. i went back to the condo and got my bait rod. i walked out to the shore and tossed out a chunk of mullet. soon another dusky shark was on the line. i decided to try wading out to the next sandbar and throwing my bait out as far as i could off there. i put my pinfish from earlier on the hook and threw it out. i stood there waiting as the sun beat down on me for a good hour or so when i got the bite i was waiting for. this fish was strong VERY strong. i made my way back to the beach to land it. i was getting excited thinking i had a monster fish on. i bring it up to see the fish that pulled so incredibly hard was only a small southern stingray. i havent caught one in many years so it was nice to get reaquainted with these fish. i didnt fish the surf much after that. there just seemed to be lots of waiting involved and i never got the variety i was hoping for.
chapter two: branching out
the beach was fun but i wanted to try other spots. while on the island i was noticing these paths leading back into the thick bushes and banyan trees and id occasionally see people with fishing rods walk down the path. this got me thinking. there must be some good water back there. i decided to be somewhat lazy and instead of walk from spot to spot down these paths id rent a golf cart and just throw my rods in the passenger seat and drive down them. the golf cart ended up being the best idea i had the entire trip. i could go so many places a car couldnt reach. the first spot i really liked was the end of 13th street a small section of grass going right up to the water. it was a small shallow canal but it obviously was loaded with fish. id park right at the edge and set up for a few hours. the carts cupholders also worked great as a rod holder so all i had to do was drive right to the shore toss my lines out and relax in the shade of the cart while i waited for my bite. i also spent alot of time setting one rod up in the cart and tossing small shrimp flies to the wide variety of fish i saw around me. i managed to catch multiple new lifers with this method. first new species taken on my shrimp fly was a spottail pinfish. very neat looking fish and a fairly good fighter. i also caught a lifelister mangrove snapper and pigfish using this method. on the other rods i used pinfish mullet or shrimp as bait and caught all sorts of interesting fish this way. majority of the fish caught were hardhead catfish. i did catch a different species of catfish that i am extremely happy to have caught. a gafftopsail catfish. such a neat fish. the slime on these things is something else though. its like super glue mixed with snot. it gets on everything and wont come off. as much fun as they were to catch i must say i did not enjoy handling these fish. i continued to fish the 13th street spot as much as possible. i caught several more catfish when suddenly i had something very different on the line. a hard pulling fish that took a few good leaps out of the water it was a pompano! yet another new lifer. this fish was not easy to hold onto for the picture but i managed to get a decent shot. next cast produced yet another lifer. a speckled sea trout. not a very big one but i could care less it was a lifer. i brought randy over to the spot the next day to do some more fishing. we caught several catfish before i hooked something much that fought very strangely. i flipped the fish onto the shore and it just looked funny. it was a gulf flounder. very strange but beautiful fish. randy switched from using shrimp to cutbait. he threw a big chunk right into the middle of the channel and after a little waiting he had a fish on. this fish ripped line out and fought like crazy. right away i suspected another ray. sure enough he brought in a better sized stingray. i cut the barb and got him a good picture with his fish before releasing it. we decided to then go try a fishing pier up the road. i tied on a small jig lure and began throwing casts out towards the deeper water. i caught another lizardfish first cast then missed a great bite second cast. every cast it seemed i was getting fish to hit the bait but i couldnt keep them hooked. finally one jumped and i got a look at what was biting the lures. it was ladyfish. another lifer if i could catch one. i continued to fish with the jigs and had multiple ladyfish jump and toss the hooks before i finally got one hooked good. i decided to keep the fish and save it for bait later. i cut it up and threw the chunks in my bait bucket and rigged up one on my other rod. i tossed it out into the center of the bay and waited for a bite. it didnt take long before i had a nice fish on the line. the rod bent into an upside down U and the drag hissed as line flew off the reel. i was about to get spooled if i didnt do something quick. i ran as fast as i could towards the direction the fish was going and jumped off the pier into the shallow water below randy ran down the pier towards shore with the camera waiting to see what i was dragging up from the depths. i got the fish turned around and started to walk towards shore with it trying my hardest to avoid dock posts. i brought the fish up to my feet to see another stingray. this one was much larger than the first one i caught here and a new personal best. after a bit more fishing on the pier i decided to go investigate one more spot. i didnt really find anything special here at first. it looked like a large flat with no fish on it. i noticed some small fish up close and got out the smallest hook i had with me a size 12 and tied it on. i put a small fleck of shrimp on the hook and dropped it down to the fish, instantly they charged it. i pulled the fish out and into my hand. it was absolutely beautiful and a new lifer. gulf killifish. i noticed some small pinfish and started targeting those to throw in my bait bucket when i saw a few needlefish swim by. i grabbed the fly rod out of the back of my golf cart and tossed a small minnow fly in their direction. one grabbed it perfectly from the front giving my an opertunity to set the hook right into it. i launched the little guy out of the water and right into my hand. needlefish seem to be everywhere around here typically the ones ive seen all have been 4 inches or less. they are very similar to longnose gar in a sense that hooking one is not easy. i had a good 50 good strikes before i got one. content i headed back to get some rest and prepare for new challenges.
speckled sea trout
chapter three: the mighty grass carp
out of all the fish i caught in florida none have caught my attention as much as the grass carp have. that is why they earned their own section in my report. i first found them the day i arrived when i walked over to a pond in a private neighborhood and saw a few cruising about. it wasnt long before some rich yahoo boasting slicked back hair, designer shades, a guy harvey shirt and a huge cigar came running over to me telling me this is private property and if i didnt wanna be prosecuted i should get off the property. i left but i planned to return. i went back to the condo and tied a few small algae flies. basically small green nymphs. a few days after being threatened with police by richy rich i returned fly rod in hand. i snuck past where i had originally seen the guy and walked around the corner to another section of lake. this was a good choice. not only was richy rich not around there seemed to be way more grass carp over on this end of the pond. i grabbed a bunch of sea grapes and flower buds from the nearby bushes and chumed the water. this drove the fish nuts. every time i threw something in the water they would rush over but only if it made a good plunk as it hit. i noted this for later. i made several casts into the groups of fish before i hooked up i got a nice fish of around 25 lbs on the line and as i brought it in the fish made one hard run and straightened my hook out. wow... these things are tough. i tied on a new fly and pursued the fish some more. about an hour later i hooked up again only to lose the fish to a bad knot. i was getting pretty pissed off at this point but i continued to fish. i felt like collapsing after a while. the temperature got up to around 105 and i had run out of water but i still wanted my grass carp so i snuck up to someones garden hose and got rehydrated. i mustve looked kinda silly slinking through this persons backyard to get to their hose but it was worth it. feeling better i returned to the pond. right as i walked to the shore i saw a lone grass carp just sitting htere. i tossed the fly onto its nose and it rushed it then casually sucked it in. i set the hook and drove it straight into the corner of the fishes mouth. i was not losing this one. after a good battle i had my lifelist grass carp in my hands. i set up my camera for a self timer and snapped a few pictures. i walked the shore a bit more throwing casts at carp and even sighting a large snook cruising through. i didnt see as many grassies after that. i think the heat had driven them deaper so sight fishing surface feeding fish wasnt an option. i went back to the condo and realized i needed a picture of the grass carp for the species contest. i decided id go back the next day with a new plan to try to catch more of them. i tied some flies that night that resembled salmon egg flies only weighted and in an olive color. this was to match the sea grapes that i had seen the fish eating as they fell into the water. the next morning i was at the pond again. within 5 minutes i was hooked up on a grass carp. i fought it in and got my picture for the contest. these flies were working great. i got a good reaction from every carp i tossed it too. i caught several more one after another. i was going to take a release shot when one of the carp got its revenge. it flopped as i was holding the camera knocking it lose from my hand and onto the concrete. the small lense cap broke and now it wont open when the camera is turned on. good thing i have a backup. i was able to salvage the camera by placing a small piece of scotch tape on the front and holding the broken lense cap down with it. not as good as it was before but it still works. i tried returning to the pond again the next day only to run into richy rich. this time driving a golf cart with chrome rims and weilding a rifle. this guy couldnt possibly be more ridiculous. he began waving the rifle around talking about how he had just got done shooting a few pesky iguanas and wouldnt mind shooting me either. i knew there was no way he was serious but i wasnt about to find out so i apologized for fishing at the pond and left.
chapter 4: the final days
well my trip is coming to an end and after a few failed attempts at getting a tarpon on my own i hired a guide for the day. the plan as the guide said was to go out around 6am and stay till 3pm or later if we are into fish. i loved the sound of that. we brought the boat out over a shallow flat and i stood up on the front end of the boat 12wt in hand looking for the dark shapes of fish moving through the water. i had a few large tarpon move in very close and i got a few chances at them but they werent good enough. i had one charge my fly only to come to a complete stop inches from it. as frustrating as it was watching this gave me hope that i had the right fly on and the fish will take it. a few more hours of cruising through i see what apears to be a massive tarpon i set up to cast and take a closer look to see it is a manatee. very cool to see one of these animals up close. i kept watching as fish swam past like bullets shot from a high powered rifle just outside my range. these fish were fast. the guide said they can swim up to 10 feet a second. so this makes fly casting to the fish very difficult. i kept at it. bombing long casts in front of large fish with no results. i changed flies and put on a small crab fly. i tossed it towards a small pod of fish and bam instant tug on the line. way to small to be a tarpon though. a ladyfish was on the line. with the 12wt that fish skipped across the water and was landed in about 5 seconds. i started getting frustrated with the fact that i had a good 10 shots at tarpon but no luck. the guide said more than 5 or 6 shots in a day is uncommon so there was a great chance at one today. i sat down for a minute to drink some water and i saw a large group of tarpon moving almost under the boat. i roll casted the fly right over the top of them and gave it a small pop. the largest fish from the group turned mouth open and slurped it down. what happened next i dont think i could ever have been even close to prepared for. ive heard tarpon fishing described as hours of waiting punctuated by seconds of sheer terror. very fitting. this fish threw itself a good 6 feet out of the water the second i hooked it. keep in mind this fish was hooked 10 feet from the boat. the fish couldve landed on the deck had it been a foot or two closer. the guide yelled to me to grab higher on the handle of the rod and give it three hard jerks to reset the hook. the fish was hooked and it seemed to be hooked good. only 30 seconds after hooking the fish it had already ran all the way off the sandbar up to the beach and was thrashing wildly on the surface tail walking, head shaking and just exploding out of the water. it made a run sraight for me and i gained some line. i had the fish within 5 feet from the boat and it took another mad run in the other direction screaming line from the reel and taking off into the gulf. again the fish exploded out of the water. my guide had my camera in hand and took some great pictures for me as the fish leaped. it started to run yet again and this time it showed no signs of stopping. the guide lifted the trolling motor and gave chase with the engine to stop the fish from completely spooling my reel. by this time i was a good hour into the fight and i was feeling more tired than i have ever felt in my life. it seemed like my arm was going to break. ive had long battles with fish before but never anything like this. no clouds in the sky and tempuratures over 100 degrees and a brute of a tarpon on the line. i was getting exhausted. even though i was on the verge of just dropping the rod and falling over the side of the boat the fish kept up. it was not ready to quit. we chased it all over the place as it ran back and forth from the beach to the deep water and everywhere else. another hour went by just following the fish. ive never had anything on the line for more than 30 minutes this was just insane i couldnt even believe people actually catch these things. my arms was burning there was sweat just pouring off of me i just ached all over. finally the fish seemed to be cooperating a little more i was gaining more line than it was taking. i felt confident as i saw the fish withing 150 feet of me all that energy seemed to rush back to me. i was going to land this fish it is coming in towards the boat. the guide circled the boat to the other side of the fish closing the gap quickly. i had it within 25 feet of me again. as i brought it closer the fish mustve seen the boat because it went absolutely nuts again making another big jump right next to the boat. this time after it jumped it ran under the boat made one sharp turn and i felt the line go slack. the fish was gone. two and a half hours of the most insane fight i couldve ever imagined was for nothing. i just kind of fell to the bottom of the boat and sat there on my cooler. tears welling up in my eyes as i looked at my fly dangling off the tip of my line. no fish on the other side. the second most exciting moment of my life was when i first saw that fish take my fly the first most being when i knew i was going to land the fish. the guide mustve understood how i was feeling and didnt say anything for a few minutes just left me to sit there on the floor of the boat in complete shock. i still cant even believe i lost that one. i chugged down a large bottle of gatorade and ate my sandwich i had packed but it only made me feel sick. i never wanted a fish as badly in my life as that one. that was a fish of a lifetime. not only was it a tarpon it was a MASSIVE tarpon the guide estimated somewhere around 150-200lbs. i got back to my feet and asked the guide if we could go back over the sandbar one more time. we went back to see that with the wind picking up the water had turned to chocolate milk over the bar. i tried a few casts but my arm just felt weak i couldnt throw the fly more than 30 feet. i decided to call it a day. it was a good adventure if nothing else. i plan to come down here again and fish for tarpon hopefully next time i get one of these amazing fish. although im still upset about the loss of the large tarpon but i wont go home in a bad mood. its actually nice to be returning to minnesota in a day and although id love to spend more time in florida ill be happy to be back. i feel like in the time i spent here i really accomplished alot. i caught so many new fish species and learned all sorts of new techniques i really feel as if ive become a better fishermen. i will return to boca again sometime soon i hope but as for now i feel like getting back to some of the spots back home.