Hurricane season in Florida seems to have arrived bang on schedule on June 1st this year, and guess who was there for the very start of it! Well we didn’t actually experience anything like a hurricane but at times it certainly felt like it, with almost continual 20-30 knot plus winds and heavy rain.
A manatee at Bud n’ Mary’s Marina. Note the scars on its back, propeller damage, which too many of this gentle animals display.
Terry Smith and myself had returned to Islamorada for another weeks fishing at Bud n’ Mary’s, with Terry looking to tick some more species off his bucket list and me planning to spend as much time fly fishing tarpon as possible. Well Terry did manage to tick a few boxes, but my fly rods stayed in the tube all week.
First day of the trip, Sunday, was a free day and of course this was the day with the best weather of the trip! We spent it spending far too much money in the various local tackle shops, I really should buy shares in Worldwide Sportsman, and getting the most out of Happy Hour at ‘Lazy Days’ right next door to the marina, but hey we were on holiday!
Monday, Memorial Day, we fished with Capt Ricky Stanczyk, and despite the now nasty conditions with increasing wind & rain, Terry got a decent tarpon while I managed a bull shark and a couple of nurse sharks; is there a more lazy fish that swims than a nurse shark?
Hook up! Terry’s first tarpon of the trip takes to the air.
Terry’s tarpon just prior to release
Day two was cancelled due to the weather, more shopping, but we did manage to get out on the Tuesday and fish with Capt Bill Basset, who is one of the most knowledgable and nicest guides I have fished with anywhere in the world. I got a nice tarpon on float fished crab, Terry got a 6lb bonefish right in front of Bud n’ Mary’s, and we both caught a bunch of other fish. Things were starting to look up right? Wrong!
Capt Bill Basset & Terry with a 6lb bonefish caught on the flat directly in front of Bud n’ Mary’s Marina
Capt Bill Basset releasing a bonefish
Wednesday was cancelled, the weather was truly horrendous, but Thursday dawned bright and clear with relatively light winds, and we had another day with Capt Bill. Once again Bill put us on fish and using light spinning rods to sight cast shrimp on the flats we had a great day. I got a 7lb snook and some hard pulling jacks and barracuda, and we both had shots at bonefish and permit which failed to connect. Sight fishing a tropical flat, whether casting a bait or fly, is truly my favourite way to fish. I love the quietness while poling around in a minimal depth of crystal clear water, constantly scanning ahead for that first glimpse or push of water from a moving fish. The anticipation of the cast is exhilarating, while watching the fish tail up and eat your bait or fly, feeling the line tighten, setting the hook and hearing the reel scream as a wellhooked fish rips across the flat is indescribable. You should try it!
Capt Bill Basset with my 7lb snook
Jack Crevalle caught sight fishing a flat
A bull shark is brought alongside for release
Friday saw us leave the dock with Capt Jim Wilcox, quite possibly the most enthusiastic guide I have ever fished with; the guy is a fishing machine! The wind had eased enough to allow us to run way out past Sandy Key into the Gulf of Mexico, and right off the bat we were catching jacks as fast as we could cast. There were endless schools of these powerful light tackle sport fish everywhere, with as many as 20 or more following the lure each cast, all competing to eat the little jigs we were using. Bluefish and Spanish mackerel added variety.
Fishing at anchor we dropped a few baits, and each time within minutes these were eaten by tough bull sharks in the 200-400lb range, giving us an opportunity to burn off a few of those excess Florida calories. Things were looking up until Jim noticed dark clouds starting to build away to the east, the direction we had to head home. Clearly conditions were deteriorating, and Jim quite rightly called for lines in, fired the engine into life and ran us back to Islamorada, getting us there just in time to miss the thunderstorm.
Small cobia from the Gulf of Mexico
Saturday once again saw us leave the dock with Capt Jim, who soon had us casting at tailing redfish over a back country flat, but despite several good shots all we managed was a single snook. Jim ran us back out into the gulf, and once again we found surface feeding schools of jacks everywhere providing instant action, and shark baits almost immediately resulted in a hooked bull shark. We soon started to see a few cobia and permit cruising the area so I switched to a light spinning outfit baited with a live crab, and it wasn’t long before I was displaying a small cobia for the camera.
At times we saw schools of as many as 20 permit cruising by, and eventually I hooked one, and a good one. Permit truly are one of the world great species of gamefish, I love catching them, and from the moment I set the hook I knew I was connected to the biggest permit I had ever seen. That fish fought magnificently, ripping countless yards of line on a succession of powerful runs, leaving me feeling all but helpless with the light outfit I was using. I fought that permit for over an hour, twice getting it all but alongside the boat, only for it to run off again just as I was beginning to think the deal was sealed. Jim called it 30-35lb, and by now I was starting to run through in my mind the images I would soon be shooting with my cameras.
Well some you win and some you don’t and this one I didn’t. Finally the permit was starting to show signs of tiring and we all knew I was minutes away from bringing it boat side to Jim’s waiting net. Then, without any warning whatsover with the fish swimming on the surface just 20ft out, a monstrous great bull shark appeared from nowhere and inhaled my fish in one gulp. You can guess my reaction.
The last thing my permit saw!
Our last day, Monday, was originally due to be a free day as we had to drive back to Miami for the flight home, but the marina had managed to schedule us a days fishing with Bills brother Capt Mike Basset to make up for one of those cancelled earlier in the week. Mike had promised us some amazing snook fishing in an area he had been working in recent weeks and we were both looking forward to the day, but of course we woke to wind and rain and the day was cancelled.
Yes we were unlucky with the weather this trip, but that happens, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. That said the staff and guides at Bud n’ Mary’s did their absolute best to ensure we got the very best fishing experience possible, and such is the location and diversity of this iconic marina there was nearly always some exciting option we could try; which is why I hope to continue fishing at Islamorada for as long as I have breath in my lungs.
Next years group trip to Bud n’ Mary’s, leaving May 17th 2014, looks like already it is full, but I may run a second trip. If you are interested in either joining us or arranging a private trip to this truly world class angling destination then contact Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717 or visit: http://www.anglersworld.tv