Tournament Tails // June 8, 2018

When it comes to fishing in South Florida, one of the most anticipated months of the year is May. This year however, May proved to be a meteorological disaster. Nearly the entire 31 days offered wind and rain, along with unexpected late season cold fronts, and then the icing on the cake, a very rare named depression, Alberto, that severely affected the Keys, and ultimately all counties of the State. Carefully navigating around storm cells and squall lines was tricky, but still proved productive. No matter the challenges faced with weather, the 18 Mirage HPX shifted gears automatically and smoothly, and was, as usual, responsible for all of the following catches.

Father and son Alan and Zach Routman from Fort Lauderdale squared off with mother nature during 25 mph east winds and dark cloud cover to land a 4 pound bonefish on live shrimp and 10 pound spinning tackle. As the atmosphere worsened, they slid down large dead mullet to the bottom near Indian Key channel to nail a respectable 16 pound Jack Crevalle. Using 25 pound spin and 100 pound mono leaders, they next experienced 3 quick cut-offs in a row. Finally, on the fourth bite, the line came tight and the fish stayed on. The leader was somehow not sliced this time, and after a tough 40 minute battle, the shock was grabbed and snipped to release the menacing 10 foot, 400 pound plus, demonic hammerhead shark!

Doug and Ian Zabrin, also father and son, from Illinois had to resort to blind fishing with live shrimp in heavy winds and total overcast to put away 3 bonefish, up to 3 pounds, including Ian’s very first, while also using 10 pound spinning tackle.

Jason Yellin, from Plantation, pitched a live crab into a tide rip near Lower Matecumbe at dawn and came tight on an 80 pound tarpon, barely a second after the bait entered the water. He bested the tough poon on 15 pound spin in under 15 minutes. Only 10 minutes later, Yelling cast a live shrimp on 8 pound test spin next to a school of tailing and headwaking bonefish, and removed a 3 pounder after a handful of zipping runs. As storms began to close the door on his day, Jason dropped a live shrimp into a trough of light colored water near the Peterson Key banks, and pulled out another bonefish of 4 pounds.

Bill Curley from Pennsylvania drifted a tennis ball-sized crab into a tide rip near Fiesta Key on 15 pound test spin to catch and release a catapulting 80 pound tarpon. As a front approached, and the breeze picked up to over 20 mph, and out of the West, Bill nailed 4 bonefish up to 5 pounds while blind fishing with live shrimp on edges near the Ashby Keys.

Troy Deal III and his son Troy IV from Chuluota jumped 2 massive tarpon well over 100 pounds before at last staying tight and defeating a thick and tough 140 pounder, the younger Troy’s biggest ever! On their second day, the Deals teamed up for 3 bonefish up to 4 pounds, on live shrimp and 10 pound spin, and then took a 120 pound tarpon from the Channel 5 area later in the day on a juicy, fresh cut mullet sunk down to the bottom on 25 pound spin.

Jim Holland from Vancouver, Washington took an 8 pound bonefish on a live shrimp from the Shell Key area of banks, landing it from a stationary boat after several long and sizzling runs. In a nearby channel, while fishing a large live crab under a cork on 17 pound spinning gear, Holland had a heavy bite and 30 minute clash with an unseen fish that was pegged to be a non-jumping tarpon. A most pleasant surprise finally surfaced, and the 37 pound giant permit was photographed and released!

Jim Holland with 37 pound permit

Amanda and Chase Chappell, newly married couple from Richmond Texas, romantically spent their honeymoon fighting large animals in the Lignum Vitae Key area. They each caught their very first tarpon pre-sunrise, silver kings of 90 and 100 pounds that munched down on live crabs on 17 pound test spinning. Another acrobatic 110 pounder was added on a fresh dead mullet, along with twin 100 pound nurse sharks, and then a massive nurse in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, whipped to the end by Amanda!

Amanda Chappell’s monster from the deep

Bob Eastridge from Islamorada, and son-in-law Jim Morrison, from Jupiter, faced total overcast skies and threatening atmospheric conditions, forcing the pair to blind fish with live shrimp in the travel routes of the protected waters of the “downtown” Islamorada area. Bob and Jim had 16 bonefish eats, and landed 10 of the silvery speedsters, from 2 pounds up to 6 pounds. When the switch was made to dead mullet in the nearby channels, they tacked on 6 bonnet sharks, a jack crevalle, a 20 pound barracuda, and 3 nurse sharks, all over 200 pounds.

Don Armstrong from Park City Utah timed his trip with some reasonably settled winds, and a slightly cloud covered cap. He used an 8 weight flyrod, with floating, clear forward taper and 12 pound fluorocarbon tippet, with an olive crab fly pattern and medium dumbell lead eyes to throw at small pods of bonefish along oceanside shorelines during the incoming tide near Windley Key. Armstrong had 10 bites and landed 6 accelerating bonies up to 4 pounds.

Thane Morgan, from Texas, had similar success with bonefish but several miles into the backcountry near the Pollack Keys, with groups of mudders and tailers “mowing the lawn” on the grassy flats of that zip code. Morgan used a 9 weight with 12 pound mono leader to have 7 bites on a small brown shrimp imitation wrapped on a #2 hook. He brought 4 bones up to 5 pounds to boatside. Just on the edge of the very same bank, a handful of large dark, 6 foot long logs were peacefully parked in about 5 feet of water. Thane threw his 11 weight, with a totally clear Monic line, and had 2 bites on a purple bunny pattern, and landed a monster of 130 pounds!

Alan Routman from Fort Lauderdale made a return trip to Islamorada and had a very slow, nearly uneventful morning of fishing the weakest tide of the month. At nearly 10:30 a.m., and fishless, a small tarpon passed by the boat near Craig Key, while Routman was armed with only a shrimp and a bimini twist for leader on 10 pound spin. The 30 pounder stuck his head out of the water to blast the small crustacean, and somehow was perfectly hooked in the top lid of the mouth, and did not fray through the monofilament. Less than 10 minutes after the release, a pack of a dozen bones pushed off of the bow, but the shrimp landed in a spot where one could not let it get away, and the 3 pounder was landed quickly. Forty minutes later, a black mass of 15 permit was moving slowly across a grassy knoll at a strip bank at Fiesta Key, and the small, quarter-size crab dropped in front of the white-lipped squadron. The line came tight, and Alan cranked in a 14 pound permit to complete his Slam in little more than one hour!

Dereck Dibiase from Cumberland Rhode Island, and friend Tom Choberka from Palm Beach Gardens, spent 3 days in Islamorada to stalk silvery targets. Tom got his very first bonefish, a 5 pounder, using live shrimp and 10 pound spin. Dereck had already taken a permit in the dark early, while drifting a crab near Tea Table Key, and then banged a 3 pound bonefish on live shrimp. In the late morning, Dibiase’s fresh dead mullet on bottom was inhaled and he went on to subdue a whopper 140 pound tarpon to complete his first Slam! Dereck followed up the next day with a violent 120 pound tarpon that ended a small fluttering crab on 15 pound spin. He later watched Tom battle and defeat an epic 170 pound tarpon on 20 pound spin, some 40 minutes after it had chomped a butterflied 1 pound mullet from the bottom. Dereck began day 3 with yet another 120 pound tarpon on a live crab, and then followed up with back to back, several miles apart, nearly twin foul and sinister 400 pound dirty freight-train like bull sharks that greedily gulped up large dead mullet from the bottom.

Dereck Dibiase’s permit

Maverick “Blogservation:” Crabbage: A handful of way out-of-the-box tips on properly fishing crabs from some detailed and observant guides and anglers have certainly helped to add more and more tarpon, bonefish and permit, to catch totals over the years. Capt. Vic Gaspeny of Islamorada removes the paddler from the crab on the hooked end, to help it present and swim more naturally, especially in current or high winds. The late and great legendary shrimper from Virginia Key on Key Biscayne, Jim Luznar, who opened (literally squatted) and ran Jimbo’s from the 1940’s, would hold crabs by the “elbows” of their claws, causing them to break their own appendage clean from the body. By this method, the crab lived long and prospered, but did not if the claw was broken off involuntarily. He would also crush of with plyers, one half of the pincher, the stationary half, to avoid being nailed while handling, and also preserve the crab for even a longer period of time in captivity. Capt. Kenny Knudsen of Islamorada uses small rubber bands around the body of a female, to stop the lower flap from opening and ruining a good drift or current set. Capt. George Wood of Islamorada will use a small needle to “drill” a hole in the crab and provide a guiding tunnel for the larger diameter hook to follow, thus maintaining the virginal sharpness of the hook by avoiding the usual “digging and dulling,” while trying to get through the shell twice. Capt. Billy Knowles and Pepe Lopez, who together dominated the Spring and Fall All Tackle Bonefish Tournaments for years, did most of their damage to giant, high scoring bonefish with the cracked crab. They would bust off the corner (Billy said “reel” men bite it off) of the shell to release scent. The cast would be made several feet upcurrent of the big bones, and they would sniff out the source of the leak, surge forward, stop and eat. These tips all go to a very worthy claws.

– by Capt. Mark Krowka