The Hotter…….. The Better!!!

Tournament Tails // July 25, 2018

Finally, true tropical hot, calm and steamy weather has arrived in the Keys. As most days are handily reaching 90 degrees and less committed fishermen are complaining about the heat, and boat traffic continues to evaporate, the fishing is escalating daily. The most productive bonefish, permit and tarpon months of the year, every year, start with July. These three premier species thrive on heat. It is true and proven out every Summer. The hotter, the better!

Rick Kaye from Illinois hosted his grandson Justin for a day of bonefishing in Islamorada. Using 10 pound spinning and live shrimp, they brought to boatside 3 wily bonefish up to 4 pounds, from the fertile Peterson Key Bank area.

Rocco DeLuca Jr. from Fort Meyers took out John Mullen and Tysen Bowling to try for their first tarpon on fly. The trio stumbled onto a massive, thick and eventful weedline near Craig Key in the morning. Scattered baby tarpon were popping and gurgling on small shrimp and crabs, blasting them out of the floating mats of sargassum. Heaving 2 inch long, small barred wing shrimp patterns, they had 11 explosive bites, and John and Tyson each landed their first tarpon ever, on any tackle!

Tom Keller from New Jersey took a leaping 40 pound tarpon on a live pinfish with 15 pound spin at first light from a tide rip near the Ashby Keys. He then tucked away 2 streamlined bonefish of 2 pounds each with live shrimp and 8 pound spin.

Don Armstrong from Park City, Utah, began his morning right with a giant 140 pound tarpon that sucked up a fresh dead mullet from the bottom. He expertly battled the compact silver king to total defeat in less than 20 minutes, wearing the poon down with a stout 25 pound spinning combo. An hour later, while standing with an 11 weight flyrod and waiting for rolling tarpon to pass by an edge near Indian Key, Armstrong pitched a perfect toss to a headwake with small, black lobed finlets wagging, and came tight for a frantic 10 minute battle to a fine 14 pound permit that inhaled a basic red worm pattern!

Don Armstrong’s permit on fly

David Leider from Miami registered some terrific light tackle catches recently. He cast to a group of bones with 10 pound braid and a live shrimp to catch and release a swift 3 pounder at sunrise near the Swash in Islamorada. Angling with the same 10 pound braid, and 40 pound fluorocarbon leader and a small live crab, Leider then put away a 70 pound tarpon near Long Key. Again, with the same light equipment, he threw to a larger laid-up fish near Channel 2, and successfully fought to the very end, a 100 pounder, even removing the hook by hand. A great 10-1 achievement on ten pound! His next day, Leider used a 10 weight to pick off a 60 pound tarpon that inhaled a small red worm fly. A pair of larger fish spooked off the boat but David persisted, and on his third shot, the rear fish accepted the fly, came tight, and did a bellyflop jump, revealing its impressive dimensions. Leider was able to release the whopping 130 pounder on 16 pound tippet!

Husband and wife Rich and Michelle Barnett from Raleigh, NC worked a flat calm basin at sunrise near the Twin Keys, firing small crabs at large rolling tarpon. Michelle’s cork soon plunged and she was at war with a 120 pounder that took almost 40 minutes to whip on 17 pound test spin and 60 pound fluorocarbon leader. Then at a strip bank near Panhandle Key, Rich lasered in a shot at a large, bulging headwake. His 10 pound line came tight, the small crab was crushed and he fought in a 32 pound permit. then, on the Oceanside of Grassy Key, Rich’s shrimp sank in front of a single 3 pound bonefish, and was instantly pinned to the bottom. The zipping bullet was released in perfect condition. Only one hour later, Rich dropped a 1/0 brown Kwan fly in the path of a small pack of baby tarpon near Tom’s Harbor Key. The 20 pounder sucked in the fly and went airborne several times before finally rolling over and completing the slam!

Rich Barnett’s 30 pound plus permit

Sarah Rudy and Trevor Christ from Strasburg, Pennsylvania, turned in a tremendous day while fishing the heart of Islamorada. Trevor’s crab was tapped right at first light and he fought in a feisty 14 pound permit to kick the day off. A minute after returning to the stake, his crab was thumped again, and a 50 pound tarpon skyrocketed repeatedly, tiring out after a 15 minute battle. The pair then plunged shrimp down into a misty trough near Lignum Vitae Key to crank up 7 colorful barjacks up to 5 pounds, 3 crevalles and 4 mutton snapper, including an important one for Trevor. He bested a 65 pound tarpon on live crab and 10 pound spin only an hour later, and then picked off a 2 pound bone for his first ever super slam!

Trevor Christ’s sunrise permit

Trevor’s tarpon photo by Sarah Rudy

Trevor’s finishing bonefish

Bob Puccinelli and Jim Pitts from Tampa teamed up for a productive day also in Islamorada. Pitts had a big morning, landing an 80 pound tarpon on a live crab and 17 pound spin, then almost immediately followed up with a monstrous 150 pounder, his biggest to date, which also chewed a crab. After first light, Bob & Jim each picked off a bonefish on shrimp, then moved to the Oceanside of Lower Matecumbe to sight cast to single cruising tarpon using 12 pound test spin, small live crabs and 40 pound fluorocarbon leaders. In short order, Pooch destroyed a 40 pounder, and Pitts did the same to a 50.

Jim Pitts battles tarpon photo by Bob Puccinelli

The seemingly always productive father & son team of Alan & Zach Routman from Ft. Lauderdale had 3 phenomenally fruitful days of Keys fishing during some of the best weather of the Summer. Day one began at Tea Table Channel with Alan beating down a wild 90 pound tarpon that squashed a crab, and Zach following up with a 40 pounder on a vibrating pinfish. After sunrise, the Routmans ventured to Grassy Key and had a handful of bonefish opportunities at small groups of cruisers, each taking a 2 pounder on live shrimp. Later in the day, pods of tailing permit were waving in heavy current on strip banks near the Channel Keys, and Alan took an 18 pounder, and Zach a 14 pounder to complete a double slam! Day two was 60 miles further down in the Keys, and began at a small series of channels near Geiger Key. The Routmans pitched medium pinfish to rolling baby tarpon, all on 15 pound spinning, to get 20 bites and land 6 of the high spirited, jumping adolescents. Morning clouds burned away, and on inside areas near Ramrod Key they found scattered single bonefish and permit while casting live shrimp on 10 pound spin. They added on 3 bones, and 2 permit, for yet another double slam! Back in Islamorada for day three, just after sunrise a large mass of jack crevalle moved in near Shell Key. Alan & Zach had a bite on every cast for over one hour, using topwater plugs and fly, landing 25 crevalle from 5-11 pounds. Also present was a group of ravenous and dangerous bullsharks, from 200 to 500 pounds, that would chase down and happily devour about every 5th or 6th hookup. At one point, the 500 pounder even began to unload on a surface chugger only 10 feet from the boat, explosions rivaling the Great White seal footage as seen on National Geographic. As a sidebar, the Routmans also landed a tarpon, 5 bonefish and a permit on that day also!

Maverick blogservation: “Just reel”. A large percentage of fish that are lost, come “off” because of a momentary lapse, sometimes only a micro second, in the tension of the line in the initial seconds after a fish has eaten. They don’t “spit it out.” While trolling, the forward momentum of the boat frequently takes up the slack for an angler who is slacking off. But from an anchored boat, or while sightfishing, you are not afforded that luxury. Sufficient tension must be created, not just in the beginning of a fight, but throughout, to keep a fish on. Permit, bonefish and tarpon will exploit any and all opportunities that you may gift them with, to hand your hook back to you. These are savvy and veteran opponents, particularly as they achieve trophy size.

With the fly, keep the rod DOWN. When a fish eats, if you trout set and lift the rod and get 6 feet or more of separation between your rod hand and stripping hand, bad things are guaranteed to happen a little over 110% of the time. Side arm is equally wrong as overhead. Just come tight with the line hand, and continue at maximum, not breaking the tippet, of course, until all running line is out and comes tight to the reel.

With spin, you can set the hook, bassmaster style if you wish, but the outcome will more than likely be poor. That bonefish, tarpon or permit (or any worthy fish) is not just going to eat and park. He could go right, left, away or towards you. If you do rear back in manly fashion, and the fish does anything else but run directly away, you are temporarily stuck in a helpless position, now with slack created, and nowhere to go with the rod to create any tension. If you point the rod at the fish and reel at a trillion times the speed of light squared, times 10, even against the drag for a few seconds, and then keep the rod with a half-circle bend, never letting it straighten out for the remainder of the fight, you are covered and the ending will almost always be favorable!

– Capt. Mark Krowka