Florida Tarpon Fishing, Everglades, and Florida Keys, March 28-April 8th, 2016 Trip Summary: When planning a trip to Tarpon Fish in Florida, we have an uncanny ability to pick periods of time when a cold front will be blowing in. 2016 was no exception to this rule. For the past several years, Diane has been on the hunt for a sight casted tarpon over 100 pounds. This year to hedge our bets, I decided to book 10 days of fishing including four days in the Everglades and six days in the Florida Keys with 2 bonus night fishing trips with Captain Jake Jordan. The idea was have enough days that we could drop several to weather and still have a chance at good conditions at some point during our trip. Sadly, that was not the case. Day 1 and 2 in the Everglades, we fished with Captain Bill Faulkner and struggled under howling winds, muddy water and dark skies that made spotting fish difficult. Day 2 and 3 in the Everglades, we fished with Captain Kevin Mihailoff. There is a saying that “even a blind squirrel sometimes finds an acorn,” and fortunately Kevin found us one of those acorns. Diane and I hooked 3 large Tarpon deep in the Florida back country hidden from the unrelenting wind in a lucky little spot where the billowing black thunderheads failed to block out God's light. The precious fish I landed was around 100 pounds and made my entire trip; regrettably, both of Diane's got off by breaking her leader and tossing the fly. During our two days of fishing with Kevin, he also put Diane on a great snook bite and she jumped a baby tarpon in the back of a creek mouth. Considering how terrible the conditions were, we felt like cunning thieves who had stole the day from the God of Thunder, Zeus himself. Next we set our sails (literally) for the Florida Keys where we crossed our fingers that something in the weather pattern would change along with Diane’s big tarpon luck. We had booked a total of six days fishing below Islamorada in the Florida Keys and planned to fish our way down the panhandle eventually ending up in Key West the last two days where we would drink away the memories of the cold front and then fly home. Upon arriving in Islamorada, we were greeted with torrential thunderstorms, skies as black as sin and 30-40 mph winds that churned the flats into a muddy mess. Regrettably in the Islamorada area, there is nowhere to hide from the wind and this proved to be a problem. Day 1 in Islamorada was cancelled due to horrible conditions. Our guide Captain Bobby Jones was very fair in describing our tarpon odds as trying to find the proverbial "needle in a haystack" and suggesting we wait until the next day to see if the weather improved. The highlight was going to Bass Pro Shop’s Worldwide Angler where we threw frozen anchovies to giant pet tarpon that live under their docks. Apparently the addicting stream of free food is great enough that the tarpon are more than happy to ignore the weather. Day 2, was similar conditions, so feeling sorry for our predicament, Captain Bobby Jones offered to brave the seas to take us fishing half day just to scout and see if any tarpon were running along the beach. We bobbed at anchor for a couple of hours taking swells over the bow of his boat and gazing at a mirage of white sand between wave after wave of white capped rollers. In a span of 4 hours, we only saw one very lonely barracuda swim by. Day 3 and 4, we drove down to the Big Pine Key area and fished with Captain Joel Dickey during the day and Captain Jake Jordan at night. In the Big Pine area we experienced high winds again and learned the water temperature had dropped about 6 degrees in a two day span essentially shocking the eco system. What this does is turn tarpon into statues permanently frozen to the sea floor. If you are lucky enough to see one on the flats, they just scowl at you before sinking out of sight sulking on the bottom. Regardless of their attitudes, we did get to cast at several large tarpon with big black button eyes and their mouths stitched closed. They showed absolutely no interest in flies and their Union had organized a hunger strike to protest the unfair weather. With Captain Joel, I scratched one baby tarpon about 10 pounds and felt that god had bestowed a personal blessing on me. One bright spot in the Big Pine Key area was the night fishing with Jake Jordan. We did two night trips with Jake hooking around 5 giants one night under the bridges and 3 the other night. Apparently when the weather is horrible, it calms down at night and tarpon head for deeper water and feed under the bridges where the tides deliver an easy meal under the cover of darkness. There are no little ones, since they will be eaten too, so you’re essentially guaranteed to hook nothing but monsters. While we did land a couple of fish in the 100+ pound range, it was difficult to get photos because it was at night and we would turn them loose immediately due to humongous, Jurassic sized hammerhead and bull sharks that lurk in the inky blackness looking for a tired tarpon and an easy fish stick meal. After leaving the Big Pine area, we travelled down to Key West where we fished with Captain Bob Beighley. Day 5 with Captain Bob resulted in some casts towards good fish that readily refused the fly, but there was some hope because the cold front that had haunted us blew through and the weather was forecasted to improve over the next 7 days, of course, right as we would be leaving. Captain Bob expertly predicted a spot where we got several shots at tailing Permit, but we couldn’t get them to eat. It was still exciting watching them tail on the morning incoming tide. While conditions appeared to be improving, the water temperature was still off by several degrees and the tarpon were not happy. On our last day, Captain Bob took us out on adventure to the aquamarine Marquessa Keys for one of our most scenic and unique days of fishing we have experienced in Florida. We fished two ship wrecks which eerily poked the sea's surface from their watery graves and casted at yellow tailed jack trevally and permit and had multiple shots at quality fish. We also fished in the lagoon in the middle of the Marquessa Keys and around the outer rim of the island. Here we saw the largest biomass of migratory tarpon we had seen in the Keys. We had multiple quality shots at huge tarpon, but they were in really deep water and we had to use a trolling motor to try and cast at them due to the depth. None of the fish responded to our fly, but with so many fish rolling, and being sighted, we always felt we had a chance. All in all, the fishing was very “off” on this trip, but we still had a lot of fun exploring the area and seeing new water. Plus, anytime you can land a sight casted tarpon that is laid up, and hold a 100 pounder in your hands, it’s a success. Diane has hooked a number of large tarpon over the years and this only makes her hungrier for more. We’re looking forward to the 2017 season and hopefully no more cold fronts!

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