by Capt. Mark Krowka
An unusually stormy and rainy July did little to dampen the great numbers of bonefish, tarpon and permit available in the middle keys. Even a close brush with minimum force hurricane Isaias couldn’t stop the action, and in fact accelerated the flats-related activity of the 3 greatest gamefish our state has to offer.
Mike Brimer from Ingman Marine and his son Logan used live shrimp on ten pound spin near the Peterson Key Banks to have 4 bonefish bites and land twin 2 1/2 pounders. Both were reeled up by Logan, and they were his first and second bonefish ever!
Vic and brother Chad Unterbrink from Deerfield Beach dashed out for a quick half day to the Long Key circuit of edges and points and used quarter-sized live crabs on 10 pound spin and jumped a 110 pound tarpon that threw the hook after a spectacular leap and crashing re-entry into the water. They went on to land twin 14 pound permits, one from a group of 6, and the next one a single.
Vic Unterbrink & permit
Logan Brimer’s first bone!
Ray Shimokubo from Big Pine Key fished an active tarpon morning while drifting back quivering and shimmering live pinfish. He nailed a non-jumping 110 pound female that drilled a pin in the predawn darkness, and then put away an additional 30 pounder after 6 bites. On live shrimp, Ray took a bonefish near Lower Matecumbe later in the morning.
Don Armstrong from Utah landed 3 and 4 pound bonefish out of 7 bites while swinging the long rod, a 9 weight with clear tipped floating line. His bones annihilated a dime-size crab pattern in olive and brown, with small lead eyes, and tied by elite tournament angler and Apache helicopter pilot/instructor Rich Barnett.
Eric Larson and son Alex from Naples began stalking at dawn in a basin near Shell Key after Logan picked off a 140 pound silky shark in the dark on pinfish. Outfitted with palm-size live crabs on 17 pound spin and casting to rolling tarpon in 6 feet of dead calm water that were slurping small shrimp and crabs, they had 3 bites and scored on a 75 pound acrobat. With good visibility, which was rare during July, they armed up with the versatile 10 pound spinners and live shrimp to land 5 bones up to 6 pounds, including the very first one ever for Alex!
The seemingly never short on fish father and son team of Alan & Zach Routman, Maverick owners from Fort Lauderdale, took 3 tarpon on wiggling pinfish and 17 pound spin, all in the 40 pound range, including a wild and hectic double header of free flying silver! At the fertile intersection of 2 channels in the Lignum Vitae Key area, Zack’s golfball-size live crab was thumped, and after a minute of tense pursuit with the boat to recoup yards of mono that had melted off, the line rose and a massive tarpon tried to clear the water but could not entirely do so. Thirty minutes of arduous close to the Maverick work, with over a dozen rolls, and many angles of clear observation, confirmed that this was indeed a 7 footer in that revered 200 pound class. By far, our biggest of the year, and for Zach, who has already landed hundreds of silver kings of all sizes, his personal best ever. Almost as a distant side note afterwards, the Routmans added on 3 bonefish on live shrimp including yet another double header!
During one of the rainiest periods of the month, Sarah and Trevor Seachrist from PA, were able to fish briefly between the thunderstorms on their first day to land 5 bonefish out of 7 bites on live shrimp. A larger, far more ominous squall line sent us running for cover underneath the low bridge next to Bud & Mary’s. The rain increased, and a sustained sudden and alarming gust of wind that was easily in excess of 50mph blew in through the span sideways. We initially thought it might have been associated with a funnel, but its duration was too long. This blast did turn out to be a warning of the power within the cell. Then the lightening started, and for 15 minutes many of the bolts had little or no time gap between them and the jolting thunder. Then came the sudden explosion of a lifetime. Incredibly bright light, simultaneous with the loudest bang imaginable. Trevor screamed twice, “The pole got hit, the pole got hit!” Turning our attention to the land anchored concrete power pole less than 40 feet away, a shower of enormous sparks and a gravel-like substance rained down on the bank and water right behind us on the Bay side of the bridge. Some 15 minutes later, (seemed like an hour) the lightening thankfully tapered off and we took an inventory of our situation. Four breakers on the dashboard of the console were popped out. My baitwell pump stopped working, and when removed later, it was noticeably scorched from a burn. The bones behind each of my ears hurt for over a week, likely from the percussion of the massive boom. It’s the closest the 3 of us had ever been to a bolt. The pole that was struck still bares the entry, or likely exit of the enormous charge, in the form of an actual chunk of concrete about the size of a dinner plate, that was blasted off. That was the pebble-like sound we noticed hitting the water with the sparks. All of Lower Matecumbe lost power for 1 hour as a result our close call. The silver lining, however, was that getting out only a few hours had been quite productive, and we were looking forward to the next day, knowing the bonefishing could be excellent if we could only stay out uninterrupted. And it was! Thankfully for our safety and mostly piece of mind, there was only distant thunder but a persistent drizzle and pressing 20-25mph winds. Carefully fishing troughs and edges with live shrimp, the Seachrists had 20 bonefish bites and landed an incredible 14, up to 5 pounds, with Sarah nailing 11 of them herself!
Trevor Seachrist with his bone
Sarah with one of her 11 bonefish for the day!
Former tournament veteran Dan Zicari of Vero Beach spent 2 very prolific days in the Islamorada area, as Hurricane Isaias passed within 100 miles of the Middle Keys. An abundance of wind and clouds and the tight brush with the 75mph system seemed to let down the guard of the local fish. On day 1, Zicari was 1 for 3 on tarpon, subduing a 35 pounder on a live pinfish in the morning darkness. Near Indian Key, he next pulled out bonefish of 2 & 3 pounds on live shrimp and 10 pound spin. A 20 pound permit sucked in his live crab while it drifted helplessly under a cork near Tea Table Chanel, and grinned for a picture 10 minutes later. Dan banged 2 mutton snappers on shrimp for a Super Slam! At the very last spot, at day’s end, we were pulling up stake and a livingroom rug-size stingray mudded on the grassy bank just downwind from us. The choppy water and white sand stirred up, highlighting a 4 foot long and darting object in the cloud. Dan said, “go ahead!” I lofted a pinfish on 10 pound spin, with 40 pound fluorocarbon leader into the mess, and a colossal jack pounded it. But when the line came tight, the pinfish came out, spinning in tight rotation, indicating the hook had turned back into the bait and found no purchase in the crevalle’s mouth. The jack literally turned black with anger, and raced forward to destroy this baitfish that had somehow escaped. This time the line stayed tight, and 15 minutes later we landed my biggest crevalle ever, over 4 feet long and handily well over 30 pounds. Ironically, my previously largest jack was also taken with Dan some 25 years earlier in Palm Beach!
Zicari’s second day was equally impressive. Again in poor weather, he boated tarpon of 30 & 40 pounds from 4 bites on live pinfish early on, using the durable 17 pound spinners. Switching to live shrimp after first light produced 7 bonefish bites, and 4 landed up to 4 pounds. Also on the light 10 pound spin, a 22 pound permit attacked a live shrimp and battled for 15 tough minutes. Two more muttons on live shrimp completed back to back Zicari Super Slams!
Krowka holding one of Zicari’s permit
Kr & Dan big jack 25 yrs ago
Dan Zicari and another permit