I’m not sure what I was thinking. I booked a trip to Florida to attend the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show, and I added three days in Florida at the start of the trip to get out on the Atlantic salt. However, even upon arriving to the East Coast, I had almost no set plans outside of the show, including where to fish and where to sleep.
Day one was somewhat arranged. I knew I’d get on the water somewhere and at some point with Captain Ron Doerr. Capt. Ron is an incredible bluewater guide in Jupiter, and late the night before, we set a meeting time and place for plans to get offshore for false albacore and other bluewater beasts.
As always, a day with Capt. Ron was memorable. The day required some gear testing for me, and in fact, gear got tested. The bluewater has demands on gear unlike any other fly fishing pursuit, and species like false albacore have a way of not only beating up the gear but also the angler. Fortunately the gear stood up and gave a great sense of what to put forth in reviews. And for the first time in my life, I actually had bruises from the fighting butt of the rod from battles with fish.
Atlantic Ocean Dusky Shark in Florida from Tim Harden on Vimeo.
I’ve fished with Captain Ron for the last four years, and he knows me well. He knows that I have an interest (or maybe obsession) with sharks, and when he handed me my lunch for the day, it was labeled, “Shark Lover.” An unexpected event in the day was that sharks were frequently in hot pursuit of the albacore and other species we were catching. And when Ron asked if I wanted to stop fishing and enjoy the company of the sharks, there was no question that I wanted to seize the moment.
Fly fishing and shark watching. It doesn’t get better. It was a great day on the water that brought in a range of species from albies to bluefish to snook. And some blown shots to other tuna species have me already eager to get back.
Day two was short but sweet. With some last-minute planning, I decided to walk the beaches of Jupiter for snook, and I was glad to have Ron join me for a few hours. I first walked Florida beaches for snook last year when other plans fell through and loved it. This year only fueled that love, as I had shots at enormous snook, losing one that was about 12 pounds. And Ron had one on that was at least twice that size.
When the tide had passed, I got back to base camp early, and I was glad. Not yet having plans for day three, I got a text from Capt. Jason Sullivan asking if I wanted to meet in Miami in the morning to chase tarpon and redfish in the Everglades. I will never (ever) pass on the Florida Everglades — one of my favorite places that I have ever traveled. Having to drive south, this required a 1:00am wake-up that I didn’t flinch at.
There is truly no place like the Everglades. From the eerie feelings of racing to Flamingo Marina in the dark to encountering two massive crocodiles at the boat ramp to the diversity and beauty of the ecosystem, the Everglades are an extraordinary place to encounter nature.
And when it comes to fly fishing, the Everglades produced a great day. As the sun was rising, I caught a tarpon — a fish the seems to take me out of the natural world and into a transcendent surreal experience. It actually feels like I lose my mind when I see them, and hooking up is an emotional experience that I don’t have with any other specie. An hour or so later, we found ourselves surrounded by tarpon again, and again I had the pleasure of hooking up. The crazy thing: When setting the hook, I was two-for-two on tarpon — an unusual success rate on a fish known to get away. And just as I stated out loud that I was maybe about 10-feet from being three-for-three, the fish made a sudden hard run. Just moments before, I noticed a potentially large problem, as the drag was not set on my reel. So when that tarpon made the last big charge, the line and backing went into a bird’s nest, thereby leaving me to strip the fish in. Fail.
While I would’ve loved to go three-for-three, I think that luck would’ve costs me some friends, and the inevitable needed to happen at some point anyway. I suppose this keeps me wanting to come back for more. (Not that I needed another reason.)
As always, the Everglades provided the opportunity to see sharks and other species cruising the flats. And when the tarpon moved out, we went after redfish. Sight-fishing for redfish is a blast, and watching the last fish of the day swim up to my crab and pick it up before the hook-set was thrilling. I completely forgot how tired I was.
As previously mentioned on this site, the Everglades are in trouble. And as I left to head north to the convention, I feared for the future of this amazing ecosystem. Diverted flows from Lake Okeechobee are putting all of this at risk. In short, it’s scary, and it’s now or never. To learn more and to get behind the Now Or Neverglades Declaration, please click here.