Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

Tarpon Fest 2001

By Captain Scud Yates, Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Carrabelle is in the 'armpit' of Florida (look on a map) and about three-and- half hour drive from home. If you don't live up near Tallahassee and don't have a cabin sixty miles south, you might never get to see this quaint area. It is worth seeing. Unc Smith and I just returned from a trip there, once again in quest of the giant tarpons roaming the Florida coast. We found them and our arms were almost pulled out of their sockets after playing with them. Why Carrabelle? Tarpon are along the coast but only a few places offer shallow water and a bottom you can see the fish against. And, that is where Steve Kilpatrick was fishing at this time. We had picked the dates a bunch of months back and would have gone anywhere he was set up.

Unc has fished with Steve for the last three years and I had one day with him last year. The story about the big one I hooked last year was with him but in Homosassa.

Steve is the guide to go with for this sport. He was then and even more so now, as he just got the certification for the first tarpon over 200 pounds on a fly last month. Unc got to know and fish with him in the 'off' times through an old connection. You do have to wait for someone to die to get a slot and if you want April or May in Homosassa. Then, the list of those waiting for a slot would make it about 2010.

We stayed in a cabin rented from one of our buddies in the local fly club but Steve is housed in a "'poon camp." It is a house owned by a fisherman and kept for only this reason. It is a small place on the outside with plenty of room to park boats and cars and 200 feet from the boat ramp at a small bump in the road called Lanark. The walls are covered with pictures of catches the house visitors have made. There is one picture of Steve's big catch. Steve, a strapping six foot two hundred ten pounds of muscle guy, looked like a ten year old next to a fish that was nine foot long and forty-eight inches around the middle. The story is coming out when properly written and controlled. You will see plenty of Steve and this fish soon. The youngster that caught it was happy to have the title of the "First 200 pound Tarpon on a Fly," but turned all the advertising and promotion rights over to Steve. As far as the part of the fisherman in a success story like this, there is a bunch of skill and a little luck, but the guide is more than most of the story of such a catch.

I will buy one of the pictures, eventually, but for a mere $2500 you can order a 'museum' quality replica made from a mold of 'the' fish, out of fiberglass, for your wall. Most of my rooms will not have room and it is longer than the beds. I don't know where my wife Kathy will let me keep it.

The first morning of this trip Steve told the big fish story and then we took off to see if we could find something like that for us to pull on. That fish and all the really big ones seem to come from Homosassa. Up at Carabelle most of the fish are smaller and Steve leaves down south and works up the coast as the fishing peters out in one area and starts in the next area north.

Tarpon Flies

The 'poons start in the Keys in April and end up going by even our place in Fort Walton ending in July through Sept. Steve does his art form through sight fishing. Sight fishing with a fly means seeing the fish on the bottom and that counts out grassy, muddy bottoms and deep places. Since many of Steve's customers are chasing world records and the six and eight-pound line weight records are in the eighty-pound range, the hundred pounders in Carabelle fill the bill. The lack of fishing pressure on these fish (they bite readily if presented a fly correctly) helps make this area good for records. He stays up there for a month and half each year fishing 45 of the 200-day season.

A hundred pound 'poon on a six weight line takes a long time to land. The 'two hundred and two' pound fish on a twenty pound 'class tippet' took a little less than three hours, if I remember the story, but he talked about a thirteen hour fight on the lighter line. If you cannot get the fish in by dark or a storm comes up it has to be broken off. He mentioned being thirteen miles off shore following a fish and almost not making it back in rough weather.

OK, now for our story: The night before was a stormy thing and tides, most important aspect of saltwater fishing, were not until late afternoon. We went on a ride in the boat about eleven and found nothing but muddy water everywhere in a five-mile area. Nothing could be seen to throw at so we opted for a nap. We went back out at about four and the tide had cleared out one spot but we saw we had poor chances to put anything in the 'mailbox' at all. The mailbox is about a yard off the nose, with the first movement of the fly moving away from the big fish. If you are too far away and/or the first strip (pulling the line in while the rod is pointed at the fly) is towards the fish, it is not natural. Nothing, and I mean nothing, forgets to run away from the big mouth of one of these monsters.

We did get to see some of the fish going by and the drool was forming in the corner of Unc's mouth. I don't get excited like he does but I have to admit the fish are impressive. The conditions were such that we did not have a fighting chance to deliver the right presentation.

We retreated after a big discussion on if we should drive south to clear water and try again. Steve phoned all over the state to a network of buddies to try and make the correct call. We parted at dusk with a planned call at 0630 the next morning to make the decision. Steve keeps a full computer weather watch at the camp. Unc and I did the appropriate thing while TDY and had a toddy or two and big fish dinner at the local fish house and went to bed early after telling many lies to anyone who would listen.

I got up at 0430 and could see a full sky of stars and the treetops showed no wind at all. Hope was confirmed when we had the 0630 chat. 0830 was launch time. Unc and I spent time discussing tactics waiting for the aspirin to kick in.

In the boat on the way out I could see the water was gin clear but we did have an overcast sky. Without the sun it is hard to see much but it is possible to fish if the bottom offers good contrast. The fish are large and dark on the topside. They even roll and take food or even "bloop/blip." A 'bloop' or a 'blip' is coming to the surface and taking a big breath of fresh air. They make a telltale sound like the name sounds. I've now heard both names used. It could be that some of them have stuffed up noses. As big as they are they don't "push" water as bonefish or redfish do. Perhaps they pick the depth better but mostly they are very efficiently designed and unless they accelerate to eat of run they don't make a wake.

Steve passed five boats all lined up on a famous spot where the fish funnel though and have for years. I guess the first in line had been there for hours to have the prime place. Fishing cannot start until the sun is up enough to see the fish. We pulled up and anchored on a five foot deep spot with just about a thirty foot long and wide patch of white sand on the south east side of the boat. Steve pointed to a spot and said the fish will come out of that dark spot and we will see them right about here and you will throw the fly about there. It was going to be a thirty-foot shot or less. He also stated we would be lucky if the fish blooped just before coming into view, as they would be running into a slight rise in the bottom and turning to follow that under water ridge. There was not another boat within a half mile of us.

Within three minutes a fish "blew up" right beside us and then another on the back side as they came up without us seeing them before they saw us. A blow up is a large swirl in the water or even a big splash as a tail brakes the surface. We did not quite have the light to see much yet in sun angle of cloud clearance. Steve pulled up the anchor and threw it out ten feet ahead and pulled us up ten more feet. With that adjustment Unc got the first 'shot' at a fish. Timing was poor but excitement was fine and he missed. The argument started as to if that was a 'shot' or not. We were to change fisherman after a good shot or half-hour. The shooter stands on a platform on the front of the 17-foot flats boat and the guide stands on a taller platform over the motor. The non-shooter picks his nose sitting in the middle while telling jokes.

Unc was up first because he leapt up first and I thought it better to pick my fights better than the first moment of fishing. Unc had said, last night, that he has several big fish under his belt and he was going to let me fish most of the time until I had a couple. I knew what he said was not under the testosterone glaze of battle and the 'evil' Unc would show up when the fish were flowing by. I have experience with this. The evil twin was who jumped up first thing. He got another shot but several fish went by just out of range and Steve moved us over about a hundred feet to a big long sand bar. Steve helped me with claiming that was a 'good' shot and I got up. We could see the fish better here and he thought the tide was starting to come in and this would be the next place to be. He was right and we both got shots but with the light not just right yet we had little time to get the shot in the right place. We did get a couple of fish to look at them closely and if they did that and did not bite, Steve declared that color bad and we would change flies.

Unc got the first shot with the right color and in the right place about 1130 and hooked up. I forgot what that was like but as an observer I could see this all happen first hand. I am glad I did, as I would have blown it big time. The fish took the fly about twenty feet out and took off like a Bangkok taxi offered twenty dollars to hurry. It reached the edge of the weed bed and went vertical thrashing his head all over the place and landed with a mighty splash. Unc did the correct thing and "bowed" to let the pressure off for the landing. The pole, which is up at a slight angle, is let down and pointed at the fish if done correctly. The fish did not come off so he did it right. The fish started a long run to deep water while Steve coached the fisherman, unhooked the anchor and started the motor to follow the fish. He ran the boat up as Unc reeled in some of the hundred yards the fish took on the run to get back 'on the belly' of the fly line.

The fly line is the last hundred feet of line before the nine-foot leader. The line is not uniform in thickness and the fat part starts at the middle and goes to the end to help casting. The start is the fat part is the belly. So Steve wants you to fight the fish from the belly or about fifty feet in front of the boat. While this closure is going on the fish is jumping about every other minute. And, Unc has a small bird nest size tangle that came off the floor of the boat when the fish ran. It went through all his rod guides on the way out and he got it back in through all of them. The next run it went out again but it was going to be a problem somewhere in the fight. Steve gave me the helm and told me keep up with the fish in speed so he could undo the knot. I did and he did with Unc keeping pressure on the line while the knot was off the pole and reel back in the boat with Steve untangling it. That accomplished and Unc back to the hard pressure on the fish and Steve handing the boat, I got the camera out to try to catch the fish in air over Unc's shoulder. It was now five minutes into the fight and we argued about when it started. Unc was going to land all fish in the first eighteen minutes.

A half-hour later, thirty-five minutes into the 'eighteen minute' fight and Unc complaining about minor aches and pains, I had a drink break. We were alternating between catching up to the belly and watching Unc put pressure on the fish. When in twelve-foot water, Unc and the fish did laps around and under boat. I even had to get up and move my Pepsi twice. The fish was still jumping occasionally and I was taking pictures. I think the timing on the camera was off, it would try to focus before shooting, got a lot of splashes on film. Several times Steve was up front with the gaff ready to do a little hook in the lips but the fish would see him and pull away. Unc would groan. I would have had a lunch by then but someone hid the lunch bucket in the back of my truck and it did not get noticed and was left behind.

Unc's Tarpon

At fifty-five minutes on the clock Steve gaffed the fish and Unc stopped his moaning. Steve unhooked and pulled him up to standing and the three of them posed for many happy snaps. Steve started the motor and we dragged the hundred-pounder into shallow water to keep a shark from getting an easy lunch. The fish got frisky with all the water and lack of pressure on him and swam off after giving Unc one last evil eye. A fish that big, is six-feet long and, perhaps, 38 inches around. They look bigger than that. Most fish are not gaffed like that but Unc wanted to have a 'hero shot' for his wall. Usually the fight ends with the fish up to the boat and either unhooked if it can be done safely or broken off there. The fly hooked in the lip of this size fish is not much to carry until it rusts away.

It was now my turn and I thanked Unc for fighting through the whole good time of the running tide. He did take it on a ten weight rod and line so he might have been given some lea way. . . not!

I mounted up again when we got back to the anchor, which was marked by a float. Unc said later that he would have made me stay up there until I got a fish but he did not have to put that to a test as I had fish on at the second try within two minutes. This one took it looking right at me out about fifteen feet as I stripped. When his mouth opened I felt like I was looking down the intake of an F-16 fighter. He immediately turned and headed for the deep but did a fancy jump at about thirty feet off the nose. I had this strange feeling that I was doing the neatest thing in the whole world, sort of like the first time having sex. I did not know what I was doing then either but at least this time I had Steve to advise me.

He got the boat going and the line was pointing off to the left a little as the fish came out of the water . . . way off to the right. I was pulling as hard as I could without breaking the line and could not see the big bow in the line. I reeled as fast as I could while Steve caught me up to the fly line. Steve shut off the motor and the fish reversed and ran again off to the left this time while I was fighting the line to my right. You have to keep the pole right at the line pull angle or you will break the pole. This run caught me with my fingers on the crank handle and I got a crack on the left-hand trigger finger that sounded like a broken bat single in pony league. Steve pulled us up to the fish again and I put the pressure on him hard. He 'wallowed' and that meant he was getting beat. I got him to the boat and almost in Steve's reach a couple of times. Boy, was this guy big up close. He pulled down under the boat, which made me put the pole under the water and pull it around under the front of the boat. I was pulling he fish backward to let Steve unhook it and the line snapped. That was counted as a 'catch' as he was beaten and at the boat.

The fight was twelve minutes. I asked to go back to the spot and get the rest of my half-hour. Unc had hidden my camera so only used his to take pictures. I bet all he got was my fat butt and splashes. I had done such a professional job on his, too. I even took one without his belly in it. That was a tough task. We spent the rest of day throwing at fish but did not have much luck. The clouds came back and it was hard to see them again. We went in early as Unc was showing signs of needing a nap. I, of course, would have stayed until midnight.

That night the recounting of the stories made for difficult conversation. We had the stale sandwiches for dinner and then hit a local bar on the water. Somehow the many explanations as to why a bigger fish was caught in less time came up. "Every 'poon is different," "the lighter rod theory," " the difference in fifty-five and twelve is really not that much," and "there must have been sharks in the area" were all tried. It was not mentioned that I was using twenty-pound leader and he was using fifty. I slept well that night without a moment of thought about fighting time and big fish.

The last day was going to be good from the get go. The tides and winds were good all night. I took care of the lunch this time so someone could not 'hide' it again. We launched without me mentioning the twelve minutes except, when I noted aloud it was; "twelve minutes to nine." If I saw a flinch it was like the 'green flash.' That is a seldom seen sunset thing sailors watch for like the submarine races in high school.

Guess what? On the ride out there were only a couple of boats on the 'famous' Turkey point and there were no less than six boats anchored at Steve's spot from yesterday. I guess when you start your motor a couple of times in sight of others and have big fish slamming about in the water for fifty-five minutes, let alone war whoops from some fisherman, you might risk giving up your secret spots.

The first spot on the little opening from the day before was open and Steve set up on it again. Another boat just came up within fifty feet an asked if that would bother us. Steve knew him and knew he could not hope for fish where he was and said, "no problem." We did get to see a few fish but Steve said it was not right to be there anyway for the conditions. The spot we caught both fish was covered with boats and a fish might run into a motor if it tried to use that path. Steve stayed for a little and fired up and left. We exited to the east and went out of sight of the other boats looking for clear water. There was none that way so we skirted around the inside of the massed up boats and headed back west towards the dock. The guys on the good spot must have not noticed us, or thought we left in 'deep despair.'

More Tarpon Flies

Not so at all, Steve took us around to another spot he figured would be perfect if the clouds would clear a little. No sooner than we set up and got the line ready and we were throwing at fish. The ability to see them was poor because of light but we had plenty of shots. In a few minutes Unc had the perfect long shot and hooked the fish way out to the left in the shallows. This one was big and did the same jumping start as the others had and Steve unhooked and was starting the motor when the monster jumped and broke the line. That counted as a 'jumped' fish and what many folks come for. Steve said he saw the fish had swallowed the hook and the line was through the hinge of the jaw. Any size of line would not have mattered, as a cut off would have happened sooner or later in any case. Unc did have the drag down a little heavy. I am sure he was not thinking of 'twelve minutes' at all. We re-hooked to the anchor and went through a couple of cycles of lots of shots. The angles were hard for me to get a good shot because of the wind and my crappy skills in the wind. One time Steve changed the anchored end of the boat for me. It helped but would cause a problem later in the day. I was still stressed and frustrated at seeing great fish and throwing bad shots. Unc knows I get this way and was secretly pretending to be sympathetic. He knows I know that sympathy comes between some special words in the dictionary too. He was more than happy to get up on the platform and let me stew.

I cooled off while Unc had a fish 'eat' but not hook. I had one of those the last afternoon. The fish makes the determination to eat the fly and opens his mouth. He can't see a thing and just sucks in a giant gulp. It should have your fly in the gallon of water taken in but if you are really crafty as a fisherman you can snatch it out of his mouth. Anyway, I got up again with that shot and somehow delivered a perfect cast in all that wind and imperfect mastery of mine and hooked up a big one again.

Same start as the rest but this one was a jumper. Unc even had my camera this time but he thought he might have taken splashes again. I did get my finger rapped again but not so hard and Steve kept me in the belly. The fish did some jumps that I finally got the 'bow' right on the last two. Had I not had a heavy (50) leader I might have lost the fish on the first jump. Twelve minutes went by pretty fast and the fish was showing 'wallowing' signs but was still out in front at twenty or thirty feet and making short runs that Steve would have to fire up and chase down. I got him up to the boat and he almost took me around the back a couple of times. I actually got him pulled upside down a few times but he was big and would get a short run away each time I got him to the boat. Steve finally tried to get down and grab him but that would scare him into a short burst. I was just getting so I could pull him backwards back to the boat by backing away from the side of the boat and then the knot we used on the leader gave way. He was counted as a 'caught' fish but not released perfectly. Twenty-five minutes had elapsed on the clock. Steve estimated this one at slightly larger than the one yesterday, over one hundred pounds.

We almost got a couple others to eat but the clouds came up and then the rain. After a half-hour waiting for it to clear up, Steve noticed we were not clearing the water that came over the bow in the waves hitting us. The boost pump had failed. Not 'clearing' the water was really the PC way to say sinking. Not to worry much as we were in three feet of water within two hundred feet of an island. We lifted the anchor and then tried to power up on the plane to get home. It was a ten-minute ride, a lot harder than fighting a big 'poon. Unc and I were sent to the front to allow for the back to get out of the water. It worked but hitting the waves on the way back was not too good on any backs. We obviously made it and it was a heck of a good day as it stood. It was early so we were going to get home early.

The drive home was started and restarted when we had to return twice for items placed on the boat and forgotten in the rush of things getting in and out of the weather. The famous lunch box was one and my cell phone was the other. I did not figure out how Unc got me to forget both of them but I guess he had a hand in it.

I sure hope we can keep doing this once or twice a year and with Steve if possible. His next 'victim' was standing on the ramp when we returned. He was in his seventies and has had a week with Steve every year for the last fifteen. I want to be in his shoes in twenty years.

Watch the sports mags for the biggest fly fishing story of the century. I hope this success does not bump the prices too much. Steve's fame could push us back down the list too. He fished with Jack and Jackie Nicklaus a few weeks before us. I guess we could get richer or more famous if needed. ~ Scud Yates

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