Monday, February 2, 2009

She's the girl from Immokalee

"She's the girl from Immokalee" were the last words we heard as we rolled out of Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe' onto the Tamiami Trail. Those are the words to Raiford Starke's number one song, well at least number one in Everglades City, although I took a liken to it. Hell, I liked it so much that when I got home I tracked it down on Youtube to share with you. Finish reading this post before you check out Raiford's video.

You see this past weekend I was playing host to my good friend Rob McAbee, you guys know him by now as the Bugslinger guy. This trip had been planned for months, he was going to come down to sunny south Florida and chase big jacks with me but, we did not factor in one thing. Rob's knack for bringing cold fronts with him! Sorry to call you out like that Rob.

Day 1
The first day we were able to sneak out on the beach and after spending the morning looking hard for the jacks we resorted to doing some mackerel fishing. The jacks can be very hit or miss this time of the year but since the weather allowed us to be outside on the beach that is where we were spending our day, especially since the forecast the next two days were nothing but rain, cold and lots of wind! Mackerel were running big that morning so they were loads of fun on the seven weight but we both still had jacks on the mind so off we went running. Mile after mile there were no jacks to be found, my eyes were burning from staring so hard into the water. As we headed north we began to see a little life, some birds diving, some dolphin rolling, some tarpon rolling. Tarpon rolling!? That's right the fishing gods do have some love for Rob, at least a little, and after a quick fly and leader change Rob was on the bow of my Pathfinder casting to a very happy pod of tarpon. The wind was blowing 20 plus out of the south and the fish were traveling north, so here is your quick tarpon lesson for the day. Tarpon eat best when the fly is being stripped away from them not at them, I know you guys are saying "duhhh" but , you would be surprised how many people get into a rush and just start throwing. If you can't picture it yet I will put it into words, Rob had to throw a 12 wt. into a stiff wind with a big fly while big tarpon are closing in on him. Not easy. The good thing is that Rob is a good angler and he got the fly in them quite a few times, but no takers. The fish shifted paths and were now on the outside of the boat and Rob had to back cast to them. Rob was having no problem back casting and I kept reassuring him that they would eat and he just has to keep putting the fly in them. Mostly guide talk but, deep down I really was confident, I have had them eat that fly a hundred times so I knew it would happen. All I kept saying was, "strip the fly all they way to the boat, they will eat!" Rob was taking my instruction well. As he was looking for his next casting angle and I was still talking as usual we both here a huge crash behind the boat and all I hear is Rob yelling,"I'm on!" You see Rob's fly use hanging behind the boat while he was scoping out his next move. "I told you to strip it all the way to boat" were my next words. It was not the most conventional tarpon hook up I have seen but, we will take it and Rob is starting his vacation tied to a tarpon. After two jumps the fish threw the fly, I told you the fish gods only had a little love for Rob. What neither of us realized at that time is, that was the highlight of our three day trip. Sure we caught some more mackerel and even a few smaller jacks but, no big jack and landed tarpon.

Day 2
We both knew we were behind the 8 ball for the next couple of days and after weighing all the options we decided to go a fish the Tamiami Trail. Neither one of us had ever done it but both of us had heard lots about it. I made some calls to my people and got some info and from the sound of it we were making the right move. Just take Hwy 29 south head west to Naples and fish your way back east hitting all the bridges. Sounds simple enough so with fives, sixes, and sevens packed and a box of small minnow patterns we headed south Friday morning. On Thursday night Rob had a high school reunion of sorts, we both went to Martin County High School and although he is five years older then me Stuart is a small town and I knew just about everyone in a round about way. I am sure everyone has heard of the six degrees of separation, well, if you are from Stuart no matter how old or young you are the two degree of separation rule applies. After a handful of beers and some food we decided to leave because Friday morning we wanted to leave early so we could have a full day of fishing the trail. Out the door by 6 am on Friday we were heading south on 95 when just before Jupiter, where we were getting off to go to the turnpike, all we see are brake lights and before we know it we are in dead stopped traffic. Long story short it took us three hours to get to Jupiter from Stuart, about 20 miles for those that don't know, and after some major detouring we were back on our way. We made it to the trail by about none and stuck with the game plan. We stopped at our first bridge and within minutes we saw fish rolling everywhere! "Dude, look at all these baby tarpon" I yelled across the other side of the bridge to Rob. You see I had to yell, because about every 20 seconds a truck or car was buzzing by us. I missed a bite then Rob missed a bite and then another, finally after about 30 minutes I get a solid hook up. "Bro, I am not sure what it is but it is not jumping?" was all I could say before I saw that I had hooked a gar. When we first got to the bridge in all our excitement I said that some of the rolling looked like gar and this was the proof. I wanted a picture anyway so I could post it with this blog but, by the time Rob dodged cars to get to me the hook had pulled.

We were both still very excited about what the next two days would bring us. Then bridge after bridge after bridge, after bridge, all we saw were gar rolling. To make it worse after that first bridge we could not even get them to bite? Must be the front pushing in we thought, we will get them tomorrow when it is sunny and the cold air pushes all these mythical snook and baby tarpon inland to the trail. Honestly, we both were having a blast, it was all about the experience. Being in the middle if the glades, standing 20 yards away from man eating alligators and just soaking in everything. We decided to stay the night in Everglades City at the historic Rod and Gun Club. When you drive 6 hours to get somewhere that should have taken 3 and all you caught was a gar you have to start looking at the humor in things and that is exactly what the rest of the trip was, humorous. First thing I noticed right away as we pulled into Everglades City is that in the town circle there was not some cool monument or historic town hall, there was a cell phone tower! Who decided that would be a good place for a tower? It's not like they don't have land anywhere else? Then as we pull up to the historic Rod and Gun Club they have a sign at the entrance with two jumping tarpon, that have NO dorsal fins? I told you we found humor in everything. Next, when we asked the guy at the front desk if he fishes he says, "Not as much as I should but if you guys brought your poles you can fish off the dock." Poles! Earlier that day I was joking around with Rob about how I can tell how tough my charters will be when some guy tells me he has his own fly poles? The historic Rod and Gun Club was very nice and we enjoyed staying there, for sure. They had loads of old newspaper articles posted in the lobby that were documenting all the presidents and such that had visited Everglades City to fish, and, of course plenty of articles about the Everglades Swamp Ape. I guess laughter is the best medicine for a tough fishing trip.

Day 3
We got an earlier start and it was cold, in the 40's with some major wind but, we were determined to catch the Tamiami Trail snook and tarpon. First stop was the pond across the street from Wooten's. Wooten's is one of these places where you can take air boat rides and apparently it is big business down there because there are at least 3 or 4 other places that offer air boat rides off the trail but only one restaurant. I was told that this pond holds tarpon and on day one we saw quite a few people fishing it, although they did not really look like tarpon fishermen but, I was always taught not to judge a book by it's cover. Clear skies made for a nice bright sun that morning but still no active snook or tarpon, just more alligators basking in the sun.

Day 2 really was the kicker, we both quickly lost confidence and after one final attempt at the now famous gar hole, we gave up. Since there is only one restaurant on the trail we figured they had to have good food, so off to Joanie's we went for some cold beer and hot food. Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe' is located just east of Hwy 29 on the Tamiami Trail. After some cold beer, which is proudly displayed in big letters on the front of Joanie's, lunch and entertainment provided by Raiford Starke, we headed back to Stuart. I must admit that I had way too much fun this weekend and proof that fishing trips aren't always about the fish, it's more about the experience. Hey Rob, I think your next Bug slinger shirt should be "Skunked in the Glades"

If you took the time to read this entire post then you really are a fan of this blog and if you are not signed on as one you need to be.


Anonymous said...

Great post.
If it's slow like that again skip the cold beers and try some LSD.
therew will be a lot more chuckles.
MCHS alumni

StuartFlyfishing said...

I am glad you enjoyed the post. It was a very cool experience. I will stick to the beer!

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear tarpon are still outside. Must be lost. Hopefully the weather will clear out soon so we can read some posts on how you tackle the big spring time permit!

Anonymous said...

a nice read. Have fished that area often. Some serious poons can be had along the trail. Thanks for a nice story.