Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ladyfish: The Poor Man's Tarpon

Right now I love these guys.  Most of the time they're nothing but an annoying trash fish that rip apart your flies and crap all over your boat.  But when the tides and weather stink, as they have these last few days, a school of voracious ladyfish are a real gift. 

For the most part, the only time I actively seek out ladyfish is when I have children on the boat.  I've written about this before, and think they're the ultimate kid's fish.  But yesterday was a little different.  I was fishing with a new angler, a really decent fly caster from the DC area on his first trip to Pine Island.  Obviously he wanted a shot at some tailing reds and I timed our departure from Matlacha so we'd hit the bottom of the tide near Bokeelia. 

After about two hours of no tails and only spooking a handful of fish, it became obvious to me that it wasn't going to happen.  The same thing I dealt with the day before, and the day before that.  This weekend just kicked my ass and I was getting sick of it.  Clouds, wind, and bad tides made fly fishing a total pain and was now desparate to put a bend in my angler's rod.

After the third hour I gave up on reds and was resigned to hooking a few sea trout, usually the easiest of our gamefish, but several of my best spots produced nothing.  I had one last Hail Mary basin just north of Matlacha that almost always gave up a trout or two so I shot over there with a half hour of daylight left.

The first cast with a #4 Clouser resulted in a big swirl under the surface and a deeply bowed 8-weight.  Two seconds later a bananna-sized piece of silver shot three feet above the surface.  It was the best looking fish I'd ever seen in several days.  The ladyfish kept hitting almost every cast and my angler was loving it.  I explained how this species was actually a distant cousin of the tarpon, and fight the exact same way but on a much smaller scale, which is where they got the "poor-man's tarpon" nickname.  In reality, a five pound or larger ladyfish is one of the best fights you can have on an 8-weight rod. 

 As the bite continued he perfected his strip-striking technique, crucial to hooking the big silver kings that I was hoping he'd want to come back and catch.  A dolphin showed up after about twenty minutes, attracted to the commotion we were causing with the schooling ladies, and blasted a two pounder I'd just released.  My angler loved it and made the comment, "Man, you live in a great place." 

At that moment, I agreed.  We ran home in the dark, making plans to go tarpon fishing when the weather got warmer.