Wow – I’ve got a lot of great fish, one a bunch of big tournaments and all of them are awesome. Interestingly enough, the one I remember the most is a bonefish. I was fishing a tournament with Capt. Bob Branham. Conditions were unbelievably miserable. In fact, on the second day, of the 25 boats competing in the tournament, 23 of them stayed at the dock. It’s funny because nobody had any business fishing that day but the grand prize was this amazing stainless steel bonefish sculpture that I really, really wanted. I coerced Branham into going out and kept reminding him that we could win. I’m sure he was thinking “yeah, right”. On day one the lead fish was at around 11 1/2 pounds and catching anything would be a major accomplishment. It was raining so hard, you couldn’t see in the water whatsoever. I kept saying “Common Bob, we can do it, we can do it! Let’s go to where the big fish live”. So, we made our way to the spot and finally Branham hollered “Andy, 12 o’clock, big fish mudding. I cast my fly into the mud and came tight. The fish bolted and I could tell this was our fish. But – it made a turn and the fly fell out. We continued on and about a half hour later 10 minutes before lines in, Branham yelled again, “Andy, 10 o’clock.” Again, I cast my fly into the puff of mud, the fish ate and eventually we landed the fish. It weighed in just shy of 13 pounds. We both screamed like possessed fools in the pouring rain we were so happy – and, I won the trophy.
I was fishing in the ‘glades with my good friends Wright Taylor and Brandon Smith. The tarpon were rolling everywhere. We could not get them to eat a fly so we made the decision to break out the plug gear. After an hour or so of chunking and winding we were ready to call it quits when Wright spotted a high-floater laid up next to the shoreline about 150 feet away. While he slowly poled us that way Brandon pulled a fly rod from the rack and passed it to me on the bow. I stripped off some line and made a measuring cast off to side. Picking the line up, I apparently made a perfect 60 foot cast (give or take) because I do not even remember making a strip. It was a slow motion, hi-def moment in time.
My most memorable catch would have to be my first big tarpon. It was in May of 1996 and I was fishing the flats east of Belize City with Charles Westby. I worked hard for the first permit, rooster, snook, and others – but the tarpon took four years, and during that time I managed to screw it up in every way possible.
My most exciting / terrorizing moment was in Costa Rica, fly-fishing for billfish. One of my partners released a fly caught blue marlin earlier and my other partner was up. The third blue marlin of the day cruised in and ate his fly, broke the tippet and returned charging a teaser. I then made a cast and the fish ate my fly. During the next hour and 15 minutes I didn’t know whether to puke, pass out, hyperventilate or quit. As we released a 200 pound blue marlin the excitement and joy set in.
We raised 5 blue marlin hooked three and caught 2. Golfito Sailfish rancho record. All fish were IGFA legal.
When I was in my early twenties, I lost my father who was not only my dad but also my best friend and hero. A week before he died, he placed an order for a Sage RPLX blank which he intended to build and pass along to me. This was to be my first pristine, unused fly rod. Later that year, a friend offered to wrap and finish the rod for me. The first cast I made with my new rod was to a lone permit cruising the shoreline and I came tight. My father never caught a permit on a fly rod and this was my first. I hooked, played and landed that fish through my dad’s soul.
On March 5, 1985 I was fishing with Capt. R.T. Trosset west of Key West. It was an unusually calm warm day and our plan was to run past the Marquesas to a series of shallow wrecks in an area called the “Quicksands”. We wound up on the “Arbutus” and anchored off its stern using a frozen block of chum and some shrimp boat trash to attract cobia. Out of nowhere, two cobia in the 40 lb range appeared and then a real monster joined them. I was using a fly rod with an 8 lb tippet and was after the IGFA record which was just over 40 lbs at the time. Naturally we singled out the biggest of the three fish and eventually he sucked in my fly. Fortunately he took off down current and away from the wreck. Two and a half hours and about 2 miles later, Trosset went to gaff our prize and proceeded to smash me in the nose with the end of the gaff as he stuck the fish. He could barely hang on and I could barely see but I managed to get a second gaff in the thrashing cobia and together we swung it over the side. As the fish hit the deck – the fly fell out. That cobia weighed 67 lbs 4 oz and is still the IGFA world record 27 years later.
Hmmm – my most memorable catch – honestly, that’s an easy one. Although it’s not a fish that most people would think of as important, I once hooked a 29 pound jack crevalle on the flats at Boca Paila, Mexico. At first, our guide, Eduardo, thought it was a permit and I made one of the longest casts of my life to this fish. The jack immediately ate the crab and took off for Cuba. The guide said, “Oh no, no permit – jack.” My heart sank and then I realized that my reel spool was almost empty. When it finally came down to the arbor, I said to Cathy, “It’s all over”. At that point the guide is saying, “He pull de boat, he pull de boat.” At any rate, I stayed connected and we landed the 29 pound fish. I also gained a whole new respect for jacks.
For me catching a milk fish on the surface in the Seychelles may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’d been forewarned on how difficult they could be and after two days of running the flats looking, we finally found three big milk fish feeding on the surface. My guide, Dean Stoltz, quietly poled the boat into a casting position. He made a strong point that my first cast would be the most important. The fly landed approximately three feet in front of the lead fish and the tide slowly carried it to the fish. I watched in amazement as it sipped in my fly off the surface. When I set the hook, Dean went ballistic. He was even more excited that I was. Twenty five minutes later we got to photograph the fish. It was a moment I’ll never forget and one that I hope to repeat sometime in the future.
My most memorable catch was the first permit I caught on fly. I landed the fish in the Florida Keys with Captain Dale Perez on a hot day in August. This fish was special not only because it was my first permit, but also because of the conditions. The temperature was in the nineties and the water was so slick that the water and the horizon appeared as one. The fish were tailing, but just raising the rod in anticipation of a cast would spook them one hundred and fifty feet away. After a number of failed attempts, Perez spotted two fish tailing up a sandy edge and I waded to intercept them. On my second cast I hooked and caught my first permit. What made it all the more memorable was the fact that Perez related that in close to thirty years he had only caught a handful of permit under similar conditions.