You never leave fish to find fish, right? That’s how the old saying goes, and it’s really a bit of wise advice. Think about it. You have taken the time (maybe hours) to hunt and locate fish. Are you really going to leave them to go look for more that you may never find?
Well, maybe — it depends on a targeted species scenario. If you fished all morning and caught bass after bass, but what you really want to catch are bluegill, you’re going to have to move in order to find the bluegill. Maybe you’ve got a great speckled trout bite on a deeper grassflat, but the targeted species is snook or reds. You are more than 99 percent likely to have to leave the trout and move to find those snook or reds.
While fishing here has been pretty good lately (and getting better) for all of our normal targeted species, I was in for a surprise. Due to some schedule changes and charter cancellations, I had a few days open up. Just by chance, my friend Doug called and asked if I wanted to go down to the Florida Keys to explore and fish for three days.
Of course, I said yes right away, but then I had to clear it with the boss. After some convincing rationalizations, gentle persuasions, and a bit of downright begging and pleading, she said OK. Honestly, I think she wanted me out of the house — but also wanted me to work for it. Big Pine Key, here we come.
I haven’t spent much time in the Keys, so I was really excited. I’ve caught bonefish up in Biscayne and a permit and bonefish on Marathon Key, but that was years ago. Since then I’ve been to Key West and done Duvall Street, fed the tarpon at Robbie’s and eaten at the Lorelei, but that’s about it.
I did as much research as I could about the water and the area trying to come up with a limited time game plan for our fishing extravaganza. All research and hearsay seemed to point to the Bahia Honda bridge and park. Friends and Internet randos alike said the Bahia Honda worm hatch would produce line after line of tarpon pouring out from the back country on an outgoing tide. Perfect — we were staying at Old Wooden Bridge, just a few miles away from Bahia Honda by boat.
The Old Wooden Bridge marina lodge, like many others down there, was completely gone after Hurricane Irma came through in 2017. It’s been rebuilt and updated. Six “on land” cabins are on the right as you turn onto Bogie Drive to enter the marina area. Immediately on the left is the office (a very large houseboat) sitting on the edge of the driveway. Floating and docked in the marina are 13 “Aqua Lodges” — houseboats which serve as floating cabins for guests.
Still new and very clean, our boat (appropriately named Wahoo) was a two-bedroom with a “lay down” loft for the kids or an adult to crawl up into to sleep. This made a great spot to store our rods when they weren’t in the boat which tied up right to the side of your cabin.
Now don’t let the two bedrooms fool you; these aren’t spacious accommodations. I think they will sleep six, but I don’t know how much you could move around. No complaints though: For two guys out fishing all day, it was a great place to dock up, grill and eat supper, have a cold one and sleep. Two ACs, one at each end of the boat, kept the inside cool and comfortable.
The water in the Keys, as you probably know, is stunning! For the most part we had excellent weather and light, which made for great sightseeing and fish hunting. The fish finding? That was tough.
The first two days we spent around the Spanish Channel and Bahia Honda passes. We saw a few tarpon at each pass and surrounding flats but had no real shots. Casts were made, but they were more like prayers of hope being thrown out over the water. We motored north and south of the passes for several miles looking, but always coming back to the Bahia bridge, where we thought we should be.
Our last morning we had the best weather of the trip and decided to head for the backcountry instead of the passes. Miles of flats and channels dotted with key after key … just amazing.
We saw a key that looked great from afar and seemed to have a little action on it, so I poled us in slowly. There they were: Two pods of tarpon working the outside edge of the bar. I pushed and held us in position as Doug prepped and made his cast. Fish on! A smaller tarpon ate the first cast and jumped off almost immediately. Fish off! I just held us there and waited.
They started rolling right away, they were so happy. Doug made four or five casts near the rollers. A big wake rolled up, fish on… and gone. He wanted to trade spots, but I told him we needed to stick one of these fish. Despite a little trouble (line tangles, standing on the line, hooking the rod with the fly — you know, the usual), he was still able to put two more fish in the air. We didn’t get to pet them, but he did make them fly.
We looked for more tarpon and tried to find some bones, but the bite was done. We could have caught barracuda there until our arms fell off, but that’s not what we were looking for. Besides, they destroy too many flies.
So we opened the throttle and headed for … wait for it … Bahia Honda for the last of the outgoing tide. All we saw there were a dozen flats boats in our spot and no fish. We watched for a couple more hours, thinking they knew something we didn’t. Guess not.
But still, we went to a new area, found fish and hooked up. That makes a great trip. Back to the boathouse for shower, dinner on the grill and petting the little Key deer that were all over Big Pine.
Thanks for a great trip, Doug — and for the rest of you, stay fly.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to take casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.