In aviation, pilots use dew-point data to calculate the likelihood of carburetor icing, fog and the potential height of visible cloud bases. Pretty important stuff when you consider the alternative to a safe take-off or landing … right!!?? In fishing, or more specifically tarpon fishing, we fishing guides calculate the potential for success based on the same data … However, few of us actually have time to refer to hygrometers or detailed aviation weather reports -- We simply walk outside in the morning and say … "Yep!! They're gonna' be eatin' today," or "Man what happened? It was dead calm and my windshield was totally fogged up yesterday morning!"
Either way, we've gotta go fishing, right!!!
What a plight, not "flight," to be faced with, huh??!!
Frankly, in my 14 years of guiding fly fishing professionally in Everglades National Park, I've found only a couple things to be certain. First, no two days are ever the same. And second, no two days are ever the same! And, nothing could be more true when it comes time to go tarpon fishing!
During the early stages of the tarpon's mysterious migration, morning activity levels and their prospective feeding proclivities can be predicted with some degree of certainty based almost entirely on wind speed and direction, air temperature and relative humidity. Not that one or two of the three can't be somewhat mutually exclusive, but each will dictate, to some degree, the willingness of tarpon to feed, especially during the morning hours.
Mild winters typically dictate that tarpon will begin their migration by early February, filling the backcountry bays of the Everglades from one side to the other with literally thousands of fish smashing mullet, trout and catfish like 100 pound-largemouth bass eating Hula Poppers on the placid surface a farm pond!!
Other years, those same might fish show up several weeks later almost undetected with only a fraction of the jubilance for which they are so revered! But, whether they blast their way through the backcountry or wander through the 10,000 Islands with a only a whimper, there are always tarpon to be caught in the Everglades, especially during the spring migration!
This is perhaps the most magical time of year on any fly fisherman's calendar. Just like everywhere else in the world, Everglades anglers can count on good days of tarpon fishing, great days and, the ever elusive, epic day of tarpon fishing. But, if I may say, even the bad days seem better here than just about anywhere else.
Unlike the Florida Keys, Boca Grande, Charlotte Harbour, Belize and many other international tarpon fishing destinations, guides and their clients are almost never forced to cancel a day based on weather conditions. In fact, just about the only reason to cancel a tarpon trip in the Everglades would be the imminent threat of a lightning storm. Otherwise, there's always somewhere guides and clients can go to beat the tough conditions and end up making a great day out of one that seemed quite bleak when the alarm went off earlier that morning! All of the above having been said, this season has been a bit unpredictable.
While some guides concentrated on a sparse push of fish early in the season, I chose to keep my clients a bit busier by targeting snook and redfish, both in the backcountry and along the coast. As January and February were very mild in terms of temperature a few tarpon did straggle in to the backcountry and into the 10,000 Islands, but unstable weather patterns made targeting them with any consistency nearly impossible. As a result, only a few of my "late winter" clients got to take a ride on the roller coaster of emotions that is tarpon fishing.
March and April also offered their share of obstacles to tarpon fishing success. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there were more mornings below 45 degrees in March and April than there were in February and March this year. It was an unusual beginning to the year for sure. But, once the road smoothed out a bit, I pushed the accelerator to the floor a bit and started concentrating on tarpon fishing on a more consistent basis.
Sometime during the second week in April, a couple of my favorite clients, renowned golf professional Tom Patri and his wife Denise had one of those woulda-coulda-shoulda hooked 13 or 14 fish days in the Everglades. In fact, I think we had five bites in the first hour of fishing that morning! The rest of the day was nearly as exciting as we were seemingly surrounded by tarpon at every spot we visited.
Unfortunately, we only put a few in the air that day, but I think Tom and Denise got a pretty good idea of the possibility of truly epic tarpon fishing that lies within the boundaries of Everglades National Park. Later that month, Bobby Cawley landed his first 100-plus pounder after more than a few years of trials and tribulations.
And, in May, a week of great fishing with a group shared with Capt. Jeff Legutki ended with Tracey Bodhaine landing her first tarpon on fly. It was no giant by any means, but along with Bobby Cawley landing his first big one was definitely one of the highlights of the season for me so far … It was awesome!
Both experiences certainly reiterated the reasons I do what I do. Thanks also to Chris and Diane O'Neill as well as Kyle and Tracey Bodhaine for a great week last week! And thanks to all of my friends and clients and sponsors who truly make it a privilege to be a part of the best profession under the sun.