I’ve been traveling to fish the Florida Keys for many years now. Initially, I began frequenting places such as Islamorada because it was one of the closest places I could get to where I could pursue bonefish, permit and tarpon. Don’t get me wrong, I still love working the flats for these species, but over the last three years I have developed an obsession with fly-fishing for Atlantic sailfish. It’s a little strange for a fish that you’ve never caught to get a grip on you to an obsessive point. Yeah, that’s right, I still haven’t caught one.
I fished Sandy Moret’s 11th Annual Sailfly Championship this past week and I was sure that this year was my year to shine. I’m normally not a big fan of fishing tournaments as I feel that making a proper presentation to a fish is enough pressure to put on myself. However, this particular event is a lot of fun and not a lot of fuss. There’s just enough competition to make you hungry to catch a fish but not enough to get stressed over.
As we set out for day one of the 2011 event I mentally lectured myself that I wouldn’t let what happened last year happen this year. To recap, here’s a brief synopsis of what happened last year:
The first (and only) fish we teased in last year was suicidal and by that, all I mean is that it was begging to be caught. It was so lit up, the mates were having a terrible time keeping the teasers away from it. Once it was in range, I dropped the fly down perfectly and the sail swiped at it and at the same time I made my move to set the hook. What can I say, I was excited! At any rate, because there wasn’t any tension on the other end of the fly, it came flying back towards me and ended up smacking the transom of the boat. I quickly made a second cast and again, the sail ate with aggression. This time, I came tight and the rod doubled over but in an instant, the fly came flying back at me once again. I made a third cast and the fish grabbed the fly a third time. This time, the fly flew back towards me and before I could make another cast, the sail retreated to the depths and was out of my life forever. It’s pretty embarrassing to blow a shot at a fish on a skiff (with only 1 other person watching) but blowing a shot at a fish that eats the fly three times in front of 6 other anglers will make you want to throw yourself overboard. After a good amount of hazing, I examined the fly and saw that the point of the hook was rolled – to be honest, I’m still not sure if that bit of info makes me feel better or worse.
So, this year was to be the year for me to redeem myself as an angler. We raised a few fish early in the day but none of them wanted to play ball. The action was painfully slow, and there I stood, fly rod in hand literally hypnotized by the hum of the engine, splashing water and lack of sailfish. Out of nowhere our captain, Ben Brownlee, began yelling that he’d spotted a tailing fish, and at that I was wide awake. Our mate heaved a ballyhoo at the fish and it charged in. Brownlee yelled for me to make a cast. The fly landed perfectly and the fish greyhounded on it. How a fish that bit like that missed the hook is beyond me but – it did. I made a second cast and the fish ate it again and missed the hook once more.
That was the last fish we saw of the trip and that one fish just like the one last year was the one we needed. When a good day is getting one legitimate shot at a fish, you’ve got to capitalize when an opportunity comes along.
Fly-fishing for Atlantic sails is not an easy game and to date, I have failed. As the saying goes, that’s why it’s called fishing and not catching and the “fishing” aspect is what makes our sport so enjoyable. Though I didn’t connect this year (or last), I’m far from giving up.
I’d like to congratulate Captain George McElven and his team fishing aboard The Reel McCoy for taking top honors among the fleet of 20 boats participating in the 2011 Islamorada Sailfly tournament. McElven’s angler, Robert Collins of Islamorada hooked his first ever Atlantic sailfish on fly and after a long battle, the fish was boatside and McElven’s crew was able to retrieve the fly for 150 points. This wasn’t the only release during the tournament but it was the first which was all the team needed to take home the win.
Second Place went to Al McLead and Ben Ekblom aboard Yo Ho Ho that was captained by Charlie Scoble and for the second year in a row, Third Place went to Captain Billy Bishop who led the father son team of John David Eaton and John Eaton of Canada on the Sally Margaret.
For more information on the 2012 Islamorada Sailfy, visit floridakeysoutfitters.com. The tournament is limited to 20 boats and the event is getting more and more popular every year so if you want to fish it, act fast!