Saturday, November 19, 2011

From Zero To Hero

Guys like Rick Waller are the reason I still guide after 15 years. He came down from Indiana and booked me for a couple of charters last month to go sight fishing on the flats for the first time while looking for a second home here in Florida.  Potential snowbirds are my favorite kind of charter.   One great trip and I could turn Rick into a guide’s most prized and valuable possession, a repeat customer.  Unfortunately, I managed to skunk him on both days.

When I say skunked I don't just mean we didn't catch any fish. I'm talking about not getting one bite, bump, look, or swirl from a single fish on our first day, despite the fact that we spent the entire morning watching over 100 redfish scoot across a beautiful, rising tide flat just south of Matlacha.  It was one of those mornings where nothing short of dynamite would have worked to get one in the boat for me, and the FWC frowns on that. 

The next day was a post-cold front morning with temps in the 50's and a strong northeast wind that dumped all the water off the flats. The reds were long gone but I snuck into a perfectly sheltered cove and found dozens of big snook warming themselves in the rising sunlight. They also wanted nothing to do with us despite the fact that Rick threw everything in my tackle box at them. We did get a few pinfish to snip the tails off some Gulps but I still hit the dock reeking of skunk for a second day in a row.

What can I say?  It happens.  

In my defense, the plan was only to use artificial lures while sight casting to snook and reds on the flats, which can be a big handicap on very low tides. I skipped bringing any live bait even though it’s a guaranteed way to catch something around here.  I also didn’t want to go after sea trout since they’re out of season until next year, even though they’re an easier target.  So we had a bit of an excuse for getting skunked, and while two days in a row is tough on the ego, it’s far from the worst dry spell I’ve experienced.

That honor goes to my buddy Eric from Idaho.  For the past six years he’s fished with me both here and in Puerto Rico with one goal in mind.  He wants to land a tarpon, just one stinking tarpon, on a fly rod, and every year it’s the same story.  Eric hooks the tarpon and the tarpon comes unhooked.  There’s always a variation on how long the fish stays hooked and how it eventually gets away but the skunk is still there in the end. 

Eric won’t quit, even though I’ve gone as far as suggesting he tries fishing with a friend of mine in Key West next year (where I’m sure he’ll finally land his tarpon.)  But he’s a repeat customer, and best of all, he’s a great guy to fish with on a small flats boat.  The ten days I spend on the water each year with an angler like Eric are worth much more to me than the check he writes at the end of the trip, and I saw the same potential in Rick.  That’s why I made sure I had a few free hours on a third morning and told Rick he had to go fishing with me one more time.  I was not going to let him get skunked on my watch.

When I idled over to pick him up at Matlacha Park in a thick fog at 8:30AM, I was a bit worried about how the day would unfold. The clouds were lifting but the tide was also dumping the water off the flats once again.  Of course I brought a livewell full of shrimp this time but it turned out I wouldn’t need them.  The fish found me instead.

I saw a massive school of jacks erupting under the surface all around the park's fishing pier as I cruised past it on the way to the boat ramp. I put a rod with a Zara Spook in Rick's hand before he even stepped on the boat and we whipped back around to get on top of the jacks.

The frenzy was still happening and Rick's second cast was blasted by a perfect five-pounder. Just like that, the skunk was off the boat after less than two minutes. Rick was thrilled and I was beyond relieved. We chased that school of fish for the next half hour, having a blast each time the jacks boiled up in front of us and Rick never said a work about not catching anything on our two previous days. He only talked about coming back for tarpon season. That's my kind of angler.