Saturday, May 17, 2008

Going to church "Marquesa Style"

I just got back from Key West, FL where I had the opportunity to fish with my friend Jeffrey Cardenas. Read the trip report below...

Just got back from Key West FL where my wife, kid and I had a super good time. I fished for two days with Jeffrey Cardenas while the wife and kid did the touristy thing. It worked out well.My florida fishing has been somewhat limited. I have caught tarpon before but it was in boca grande pass on a break away jig before they banned them....It was a cool experience but still not the monster tarpon on the flats that I think most saltwater fly guys dream about...Luckily for me I met Jeffrey 5 years ago up here on Cape Cod and we had a very memorable trip sight casting for stripers on the bayside flats. We have stayed in touch and Jeffrey had mentioned he had fond memories of the cape and wanted to return to fish again. After a few emails that were exchanged Jeffrey suggested that we exchange trips, meaning me coming down to Key West and fishing the tarpon migration with him and he coming up to Cape Cod later this summer and trying to intercept some of those 100lb bluefin on the fly. Sensing a great way to fish with someone as talented and respected as Jeffrey I jumped at the opportunity.As the time neared, I had a hard time getting excited about the trip. Afterall, the spring is a crazy time of year for me with getting my own boat ready to rumble as well as the many other jobs I do for other people out here that time of year. The flight down went off without a hitch except an hour delay in Miami which was the result of some mechanical malfunction on the american eagle. We had a great birds eye view of the entire Keys chain during the flight. I think it was then that excitement started pumping throught my veins as I looked at the aquamarine water interupted by stark white sand and dark green grassy flats....The excitement grew as the flight continued and my mind wandered to visions of hooking up with the silver king I had seen so many times on a cold, gray Sunday morning watching ESPN in the dog days of winter.Stepping off the plane into the tropical air was like a drug the doctor ordered. It was middle of the afternoon and was 85 degrees with 50 percent humidity and a light breeze...We piled into a cab and headed towards the Hibiscus Best Western. As we drove along the atlantic boardwalk my cellphone goes off and it is jeffrey welcoming me to Key West and telling me to be out in front of the lobby at 5:15 am....After checking in and a swim in the pool we walked down to Camilles and had a nice dinner of blackened mahi, and snapper with a couple of margaritas to wash it all down. Four am does come early but I never really slept. Right on time Jeffrey pulls up towing his 17' Maverick HPX and welcoming me to Key West. He says "coffee"?...I say "yessir"...We get caught up on stuff driving through the dark streets when we come up on a lit up corner building with the name "Sandy's" clearly written in red across the front. Several tables and bar stools are filled with patrons all drinking cuban coffee...Jeffrey orders two to go and I must say it was the best coffee I have ever had. Jeffrey is in a zone launching his boat and getting us headed down the no wake zone. As a guide I clearly understand and as much as you want to help, sometimes it is just best to stay out of the way and do what your told..I have no idea where we plan to fish today. Jeffrey intercepts the silence with, "I think what were going to do today is make the run to the Marquesas, it's about a 25 mile run and if you were only going to fish tarpon once in your lifetime then this is where you can get the full experience" Inside me the excitement grew because even tho I have never fished the Keys before I have read enough to know that the Marquesas are a hotbed for the tarpon migration. Jeffrey had mentioned that his daughter caught a 90lber in the Key West harbor channel the day before and i was fully expecting that this is probably where our trip would start. The 25 mile run went fairly quick. The wind was light from the east which made condtions favorable for opening up the throttle and skimming across the flats to our destination. We never said much in route as we were steaming in the dark over 2' flats so all eyes were on the lookout....As Jeffrey throttled down he immediately went into guide mode and said, "OK, were going to start right now and I want you to listen carefully to me, we will start seeing tarpon immediately and the best action will be in the next hour so I need you at your best". He hands me an Abel 11wt with matching reel with SA clear intermediate line. A 1/0 Marquesa Sunrise special is tied to the 60lb shock leader. I step up onto the forward deck as Jeffrey explains the game, what to look for, where to cast, and how to retrieve. Within a couple minutes Jeffrey calmly says, "Ok Jeff, we have a some rolling tarpon here at 3 oclock, at about a football fields length away, let me know when you get a fix on them....I turn and look and all I see is still water, Jeffrey bounces back and sez "point your rod at where you think they are. I point and he directs my rod tip to where they are supposed to be but I still don't see them....As he poles closer, I finally see the tails in the false dawn light, I cannot belive my eyes cuz the trip is REAL now and I am fishing giant tarpon on the Marquesas with Jeffrey Cardenas!Jeffrey poles us closer and when we are 80' to the slowly daisy chaining fish he directs me to cast to the right side of the clockwise chaining fish. I hit the mark, "not bad for not even getting a false cast in during the last 6 months" and Jeffrey tells me to let it settle and start a slow strip. "anticipate the grab, anticipate the grab" he tells me. The grab is subtle and as I strip strike the fish comes to life and makes a 10 yard surge before it leaves the water in a gallant leap to free the hook. I bow to the king as I start having my day at church "Marquesa style" with pastor jeffrey on his pulpit with staff in hand.I let out a whoop and turn to Jeffrey and start laughing. He tells me to gain my composure and concentrate on the fish, countering when it turns and putting maximum amount of pressure on to get him to the boat. After about a 15 minute battle and 3 spectacular jumps, my guide leaders the fish and pops the fly out of his mouth. As the fish swims away I have to stop and smile and realize what has just happened. One cast, one 70lb tarpon released...Not a bad way to start the day. After a few high fives and brotherly hugs I am back on the platform...The sun is up now and I am starting to see these fish when Jeffrey points them out and I even manage to spot a few groups and singles on my own. The next group of fish are pigs and when I get tight and he leaps I cannot believe my eyes at the size of this thing and that it is connected to my fly. As it tail walks numerous times across the flat, I bow and pray and bow and pray and miracously stayed hooked up. As the fish settles down and I get to fighting him he turns a bit and the fly pops out of his mouth...I tell Jeffrey I can't believe the size of that fish and he say's it was an easy 160lb fish. I sense excitement in his voice as well and realize that we are in the moment, the tarpon migration on the marquesas and if I were to pick a day to be here TODAY is the day. The morning went on and we hooked 7 large tarpon in all before noon. All but two were near boatside before the fish spit the hook. Leader in the guides is a caught fish my guide sez and with the new regultions no tarpon are allowed to be taken out of the water unless you have a 50 dollar permit per fish. Three bull sharks got one of my fish. I quickly offered to break him off but Jeffrey said it didn't matter, they would get him anyway. As much as I didn't wan't it to happen it was quite a cool experience to watch these sharks intercept my tarpon. It was a quick kill and they swarmed in on him and after about one minute all that was left was the head. With the scent of a fresh kill in the air and less tarpon showing we ran off to some wrecks to look for permit. We saw a few but most wrecks were filled heavily with barracuda...I mentioned to Jeffrey I had never caught a cuda so he tossed me an ultralight outfit and I had a gas on 8-12lb cuda. On the way in we stopped at some crystalline white flats to watch spotted eagle rays and lone tarpon cruise across the flats. I got one shot at a nice lone tarpon but he wasn't interested.On day two, mother wind decided to wake back up and we were greeted with 15-25mph winds which made the run over in the dark a bit slower but Jeffrey jogged us to keep us in a lee as much as possible. The fish had moved but when we found them they were rolling well but not staying up for long. I had dozens of shots but with the wind it was a much tougher day. I feel I got the fly where it should be numerous times but the tarpon didn't think so and I think Jeffrey thought the same! After half a day of non eaters Jeffrey took me to a spot to chase baby tarpon. It was incredibly beautiful in crystal clear tanin water and the baby tarpon schools were numerous. Getting the baby tarpon to eat was much easier and not nearly as technical but was still super cool and a nice mental change of pace. Later that day we played with the barracuda and kept one to chum for sharks which we did and had 3 lemons and one blacktip show up almost immediately. I hooked up a nice lemon on a medium spinner but it broke off immediately....All in all it was a wonderful trip with varied species, water and conditions. I learned a tremendous amount about tarpon behavior listening to Jeffrey and asking as many questions as I could think of. It is a very technical game for the larger fish and listening to your guide is KEY to getting hooked up. I highly recommend Jeffrey to anybody wanting to fish Key West and am already planning on getting back there same time next year... On a side note we flew American and I was pretty unappy with the way things went especially on the ride home......I'll fly Jet Blue and rent a car next time!

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