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The Roving Sportsman… Father’s Day Weekend

Yes, Father’s Day and Father’s Day Weekend have passed, but I am anxious to share with you just how my Day and Weekend unfolded — hoping that it might inspire you to do something similar in the future.

For several years, as I have written about ideas for Father’s Day gifts, I have always stressed that the most important gift a son or daughter can give their Dad is some of their time. Just how you might accomplish sharing your time will be up to you, of course, but the following may give you some ideas.

For a very long time, my two sons and I have often talked about finding the time to do a fishing trip together. But, as the years have clicked away at an ever-increasing rate of speed, it just never seemed to come to fruition. We bantered around the idea of getting together here in Pennsylvania for a few days of trout fishing, traveling to Oregon, where my youngest son lives, to fish for trout and steelhead, or joining up with my oldest son in Florida for some saltwater fishing. I am thrilled to relate that this last weekend, it finally happened!

I drove to Florida, picked up my two sons, and we headed to Islamorada in the Florida Keys for the weekend. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, checked into our very comfortable three-bedroom, two-bath cottage on the property at Bud and Mary’s Marina, and then headed out for dinner – fresh fish, of course — hogfish to be exact. Hogfish is a locally procured fish that feeds on mollusks, crabs, and sea urchins and yields very tasty white filets that the local restaurants prepare in a wide variety of ways. Returning to the cottage, we discovered dozens of old black and white photos displayed throughout the rooms — photos taken in past years of tarpon and swordfish caught by the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Jimmy Stewart, and the baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams. Sleep was elusive as thoughts of fishing in the same waters as these legendary giants kept running through my mind!

At sunrise on Saturday, we met our fishing guides and made our plans for the day. Tim, my youngest son, would be fishing with Jake on one boat, and my older son, Todd, and I would be with Cory on a second boat. We would be flyfishing for tarpon! What we were about to experience is something that very few fly fishermen ever have the opportunity to do, and what most fly fishermen would agree is perhaps the ultimate challenge in fishing with a fly rod.

We motored for 30 minutes across the Florida Bay in 3-5 feet of water, then suddenly Cory cut the engine, and we floated to a stop.

He had spotted a tarpon in the early morning light as it rolled on the surface. The trick was to spot the “rollers” as they came to the surface for a big gulp of air — then, with the motor not running, slowly and stealthily pole the boat close enough to the fish so that the angler could cast a fly to it.

At least, that was the plan! Once Cory had poled the boat close enough for casting, the angler would begin stripping out line and false casting, then (hopefully!) lay the fly out gently on the water just ahead of the fish. At least, that was the plan! When the tarpon rose and took the fly, we were instructed to forget about our hooking and fighting techniques that we had used with fishing for trout. Instead, the angler should keep the rod tip down and to the side, thus exerting pressure on the line and keep tension against the fish, especially as it would run or jump. At least, that was the plan!

Throughout the morning, we spotted, poled to, and cast to more than a dozen fish, but “the plan” never seemed to come to completion.

The water was very clear, the fish were very wary, and the casting, I must admit, was not as far or quite as good as it needed to be. We saw numerous fish roll, two of which jumped out of the water, and several times, tarpon in the 80-100 pound range cruised just a few yards from the boat. At noon, the two boats and their guides and fishermen met up for a quick lunch and then were hard back at it for another two hours before we called it quits for the day.

It was truly a memorable day, even though none of us ever hooked a fish. There was a huge learning curve, and it became quite obvious that, even if Lady Luck was with you, it may take days and days of fishing until you finally joined the elite and extremely limited group of fishermen who have taken a tarpon on a fly!

We ended the day realizing that “Fly fishing for tarpon is not for sissies!” We went to bed wondering what tomorrow would bring.