The Keys Chronicles (Pt. 2)

Eric waiting out a squall.

June 13, 2008

My buddy, Nate W. who now resides on Tavernier Key, was the first to introduce me to the Keys and it was I who in turn introduced him to BarJack (that’s Mister BarJack to you). Since then they’ve been as thick as thieves and fish together whenever Barjack can talk Nate W. into taking time off work… something I’ve never been able to do, by the way.

That’s the other thing about Barjack: he is one of the most likable, easy-going, personable, and persuasive anglers your likely to meet, which has got him into so much sweet fishing that it’s hard not to wonder how much of that is conscious schmoozing and how much is genuine generosity. Heck, he openly admits that he approached me in the Salty Feather (Jacksonville’s only fly-shop) because he heard me mention that I was from the Cayman Islands. (I can almost see the visions of bonefish and tarpon flashing before his eyes.) Next thing I know we’re paddling his kayaks through Jacksonville’s backwater creeks where I jealously watched him catch puppy reds with casual facility while I tried to work out how to take a leak in one of these things without taking a header into the inter-coastal [3].

I eventually caught my first redfish on fly under his watchful eye: a nice 4-pounder that briefly towed my kayak while I tried to fight the fish and simultaneously figure out how you land a fish with a 9-foot rod in these bloody things. I’ve got a framed picture of that first fight that Barjack had the presence of mind to snap. The creek is glass calm with the marsh grass rising high above the head of the angler who sits with rod bowed to a deep boil just beyond an oyster bar. In the background the marsh fades to the purple horizon and an orange sunset [4]. If this was a setup for an invitation for Barjack to come bonefishing with me back home, it couldn’t have been better executed and a few years later I made good on my debt by guiding him to his first permit… which by the grace of the Good Lord I successfully leadered for him, thereby inadvertently saving my own life and him from the disgrace of a court martial and life-in-prison.

Nate W. now lives with bonefish, tarpon, and permit right out his back door, a fortunate circumstance he now takes advantage of almost as often as he should. He also fishes with a flyrod now, where it used to be the other stuff. He still tosses live crabs at permit occasionally just to catch them, but the thrill of casting a fly to tarpon has got him skipping days at work and taking long weekends. I’m proud to say I believe both Barjack and I share a lot of the blame for that.

Of course, it’s been Barjack down there most every other weekend since he moved to Tampa. Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing introducing those two. If they spend any more time fishing together they’ll probably be heading toward bankruptcy and a broken marriage… though I sincerely hope neither is the case. And, of course, when I get on the water with them I can’t help but see their time figuring out the bite as a purely good thing.

Nate W. usually poles the boat, though Barjack is now getting pretty good at that himself. Apparently they’ve been hitting the tarpon migration hard this season, with results. Several times they’ve been in a line of guide skiffs and been the only ones to jump fish all day. Not bad for a couple of amateurs on their first serious season.

Of course, just getting one of those fish to eat is no guarantee of landing it, not by a long shot. I’d say the average fight, from hookup to slack-line, is about 3 seconds or so. The tarpon eats, you strike, it jumps, hook flies out. SOP. But, if you’re the only boat doing that on a particular flat then I suppose you can count that as a kind of victory. Probably.

3 There are actually a number of ways to do this, given the style of kayak and the operator’s athletic ability. None are graceful. Nor will I recount (or relive) any of those I tried here. [back]
4 Of course this was right before I almost ended our young friendship by dropping his $100 BogaGrip into the muddy waters of the creek. The fact that it was still attached to the fish didn’t help. Thankfully I was over an oyster bed at this point so the water was only like 6 inches deep… and a 4-pound fish isn’t dragging 2 pounds of stainless steel anywheres. I merely reached into the water and there it was. Pretty smooth, I thought. [back]

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1 Comment
  • tropicalypso

    “I’d say the average fight, from hookup to slack-line, is about 3 seconds or so”

    Precisely what my one and only tarpon experience consisted of. I was out in a tiny kayak in the waters of Morgan’s Harbor when I heard a huge splash behind me.

    I was naturally concerned, as the “boat” i was in only measured 8 feet, stem to stern. So I did was came natural… I casted towards it (on a medium action spinning rod with 10lb braid).

    One twitch of the lure, and I felt something hit it with a resounding THUNK… the next thing I know, the drag is smoking and lines starts peeling out at a rate I wasn’t quite accustomed to… the tarpon jumped, once, then twice, then POP! goes my 20lb leader.

    Fun times.

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