My Spring fishing trip started in the Florida Keys
and ended in Cancun (my Cancun Sailfishing adventure is in
another "Tall Tales" story). In fact, we wanted bonefish,
permit, and tarpon for a Grand Slam on the flats as we did
2 years ago four, yes 4, times. We missed out on the permit
due to unfavorable winds, so we concentrated on the other
We fished with Capt. Pat Bracher on the
OVERTIME out of Cudjoe Key Marina, about 20 miles east of
Key West. I've known Pat and Arch Bracher for 20 years.
We met when Pat bounced a football off my 4X4 truck while
I was surf fishing Hatteras for red drum, and we have been
friends ever since. Arch Bracher runs the PELICAN. There's
more about Arch and the PELICAN in the Cancun Sailfishing
We leave the dock at Cudjoe and run south,
along the inside of the outermost Key (I can not mention
the Key name or Pat will never take me out again!). We stop
and pole up onto the flats. "Lets try for some bones and
do tarpon later," he says, "the tide is not right for the
big guys yet!" So we cast shrimp baited hooks and wait for
the bite - these fish can smell a shrimp 200 yards away.
So now we wait ...10 minutes. A bite, "REEL Marjory" is
the cry, she reels the line tight, and shoot it's a bonnet
head shark ... rebait and cast again. Twitch, twitch goes
the rod tip, Marjory gently picks it up, the reel goes off,
hooked up with a bonefish. Marjory has a fish leaving a
roster tail behind it running for the deeper water. "No
way", she says as the fish races for the boat. "CRANK FAST",
yells Pat. Marjory is reeling for all she's worth. The fish
shoots down the port side about 30 yards away, and she is
still retrieving line from astern. "I lost him", she says.
"Keep reeling, he's ahead of you", says Pat, as I scramble
for the camera. "Oh, he's still on", says Marjory as she
turns toward the fish. The battle continues, and finally
the bonefish comes along side. A quick picture, and he is
released. "Pretty work, Marjory", followed by a kiss; Pat
says that was about a seven pounder.
At some point during the bone fishing,
a spinner shark leaps from the water two or three times.
This shark was about six feet long and spinning like a top.
Nature in motion - absolutely beautiful. Later we were snorted
at by a large sea turtle.
So we continue with intensity on the lines
and rod tip. My rod twitches - I pick it up, the reel screams,
I lift it up high and reel. "Bonefish on", as he runs for
the channel. I stop him short and he turns back towards
the boat, but veers to the right, running along the edge.
"Watch out", says Pat, "he's going to gain line and then
turn out and dive into the channel to cut you off!" I hold
the rod high and reel for all Iim worth, and catch up before
he runs again. Pat was right; he went straight for the edge
of the reef. I stopped him just before the edge and got
him boat side, then he decides he's not done yet and runs
under the boat at the stern. Rod into the water as far as
it would go, "watch the push pole", yells Pat. "I know -
I screwed this up before", I reply. Under the anchorage
push pole and around, "clean job, Charlie", says Pat. Another
bonefish brought to the boat for a Kiss and Release. This
was repeated six more times for a total of eight bonefish.
Marjory wears the crown for the largest Bonefish estimated
to be 8+ pounds. But enough of this - let's go for the big
Now we are in the boat channel leading
from the marina to the Caribbean, with lots of boat traffic
going on. "Watch the oncoming boats and your float, and
get it out of their way if necessary" says Pat. "OK", I
respond. Here comes a boat, eyes are flashing between the
float and the boat. The boat will clear, I look to the float
and it's not there. I reel, the rod bends, I reel, the next
thing I see is a 120-lb tarpon going airborne. "I'm outta
here", thinks the tarpon racing down the channel for the
open ocean. Marjory releases the boat from the anchorage
(push pole), the boat spins, and the pressure is on. The
tarpon is jumping his way to freedom, "Remember to bow,
not pull back, when he jumps", says Pat. "I remember", I
respond. "Well, you're not very good at it", he says. "I
gotcha", sending a smile his way. About 40 minutes later,
the fish is boatside, the line cut at the hook, and the
big guy swims off healthy. That was the first day.
(A note from Marjory: This is the fish
that had Charlie sitting down and straining. Pat said, "I
had a 10 year old land one this big last week and he didn't
have to sit down". Charlie popped to his feet and pressed
on. This fish surged once more and Charlie is lying in the
bow, clinging to the rod with an amazed look on his face.
I tried to capture on film the moment that Pat grabbed for
Charlie (or was it for the rod), but the picture doesn't
do justice to the fray of arms, legs and pole I remember.
I've never laughed so hard while fishing ...)
The second day the weather had kicked up
even more with a cold front. Pat gave me an option. "Bonefish,
permit, or tarpon ... what do you want to try?" I say, "Tarpon,
what do you want to do Marjory?" "I like seeing you strain
when Pat locks up the reel to full, she says. OK, it's off
to the boat channel. We head out but the tide is not right.
So I learn from Pat about rigging the pinfish bait, the
leader, etc. The tide begins its run, the float goes under,
REEL, Marjory jumps to release the push pole, I'm hooked
up. "This one could be a bruiser", says Pat as the fish
comes out of the water, "Yeah, he is", I say as Marjory
gets a picture. The battle is on. The boat is dragged onto
the flats, Pat pushes the drag up to FULL, and now I'm hurting
the fish I think. Wrong, he's trying to hurt me. Another
40 minutes and he is boatside in excellent condition and
released for another day.
The count was two large tarpons on day
two. The last tarpon had a swimming mate that stayed in
her shadow whenever she was in the water. That was one smart
tarpon that paid no attention to the baits.
For day three, Marjory goes shopping, and
Pat and I go back to the channel for tarpon. A few moments
later we catch one that's as feisty as the first day's tarpon.
The fish surges, pulling me off balance, and I land on the
forward casting deck on my forearms, hanging on for dear
life. I back off the drag a little to get back on my feet;
the fish must have known this because she went airborne.
Fortunately, the hook stayed in place. The usual catch scenario
is as follows:
Two boats are racing down the channel.
As we face to the stern, the one on the left is trying to
overtake the one ahead. He finally sees us as we are pulling
in our baits to avoid a cutoff, and falls in astern of the
lead boat. Before the V wakes rock the OVERTIME, the float
goes down. REEL, HOOKUP, DRAG SCREAMING; Pat releases the
push-pole anchorage holding the boat in place. "This fish
is bigger than the others", Pat says as he starts the motor.
We get pulled by the tarpon down the channel; boat traffic
cause us to motor toward the fish and try to get her onto
the flat. "No luck - she's heading for sea."We continue
to motor toward her. "Got the knot", I yell as Pat cuts
the engine. "You're on your own, Charlie", says Pat. I push
the drag up to Full, although I knew this one would punish
me. This fish is still headed for sea, and drags an eighteen-foot
Hughes flats boat for a mile. The channel turns west, and
so does the fish. Oh @#$% - it's a smart one. Boats coming
in stop to watch us. "Please don't break off, son", I said.
The other boat's occupants are asking, "what do you have?"
"Tarpon", said Pat. Meanwhile I'm really putting the pressure
on. More incoming boats stop to watch, and repeat the question.
"Are you sure it's a tarpon?" "Yes", came the reply. In
the end, the tarpon came to boatside with pictures taken,
and was released in excellent condition and deep water.
"How big?", I asked Pat. "Only about 130 pounds", he responded.
"How come we are three miles from our anchorage?", I ask.
"Uh, that fish could have been bigger, but I like to see
you sweat!" (Pat took a telling photo of me grimacing under
the pressure of this last fish).
So over three days of fishing the OVERTIME
we count eight bonefish and six tarpon. I'm going back next
Marjory took some incredible shots on the
first two days. They include a shot of the first tarpon
airborne and mouth flared so wide that you see air through
the gill slits. Some of the flats shots of the tarpon in
the water are amazingly clear (thanks to a polarizing filter).