It's been awhile since we checked in with a report from northern Wisconsin, and a lot has changed. Our ice should no longer be considered safe, and it's time to start thinking about open water opportunities. First and foremost, Saturday marked the opener for lake Superior tributaries north of Hwy 2. Good weather and moderate water levels allowed plenty of anglers to get out and chase steelhead. By most accounts, it sounds like there's a pretty good run of fish in the streams right now with plenty of action for those who are willing to wander off the beaten path. Well placed yarn flys, spawn sacks, spoons and spinners will all catch fish. Josh Teigen along with his pals John Darwin and Acorn Armagost traded in their augers for waders and landed some fantastic fish. Well done fellas! It's not hard to argue that these are some of the coolest fish swimming in the great lakes, and every one landed should be considered a real trophy. Open water trolling along the south shore and Apostle Islands will be kicking into gear soon as well, and we'll keep you posted as the water warms and the bite develops.
From here, our report takes a bit of a turn south. Not in a negative way, but literally south. LeeAnn, Morgan, and I made our annual trek to Islamorada in the Florida Keys. Islamorada came to my attention many years ago and is commonly referred to as the "Sportfishing Capitol Of The World". It's nirvana for junkies like me who are consumed with fishing, guiding, and the culture that surrounds it. Warm weather, beautiful beaches, and plenty of "other" things to do make it a perfect compromise for a family vacation and a great way to spend spring break.
On this trip, we were fortunate to connect with my friend and retired guide Captain Vic Gaspeny. If you're not familiar with Vic, I'd suggest doing a little research. His legendary guiding career began in 1975, and he's a true pioneer in many respects. His line class records and innovative techniques speak for themselves, but the best part about Vic is that he's just a really good guy. His schedule worked perfectly with ours, and he was gracious enough to spend three evenings on the water with us during our trip. Evening #1 was all about the girls. At least it was supposed to be… We met at Bud N' Mary's, and the plan was pretty simple. Vic would put us on a spot with some smaller fish, and the girls would get to crank a bunch in while we watched the sun set. Things went as planned with The Morganator and LeeAnn reeling in 11 different species that included mangrove, mutton, lane, and yellowtail snappers; black and red groupers; bluestriped and white grunts; triggerfish, jack crevalle, and blue runners. A beautiful sunset made it a perfect night, and if it had ended there we would've been happy. But it didn't… Vic had something grab the rod that was rigged for grouper. Morgan started the battle, but it was a bit much for her so LeeAnn took over. That wasn't going to work either. Vic thought the fish had swam into a snag, but the snag started to swim. He handed me the rod and said, "Not sure what we've got here." Turns out we were locked into a sawfish that Vic estimated to be between 15' -16' long and 500 lbs. when we were finally able to pull it up on a sandbar over an hour later and half a mile from where we originally hooked it. Thankfully, Morgan was holding on to me with all she had or that fish might have pulled me in! These amazing prehistoric creatures have made quite a comeback over the last several years, and they take your breath away when you get them to boat side. When the battle was over, I felt like I'd been in a 15 round boxing match with absolutely nothing left in the tank. As I collapsed into my chair, Vic told us it was the largest fish anyone in his boat had ever caught. Now that's saying something!
Evening #2 was devoted to chasing the silver king. I caught my first tarpon with Vic in 2009, and it's a memory that's etched in my mind forever. Anyone that's ever caught one know's what I'm talking about. My father (Jim) would join us on this trip, and he's had some memorable times with Vic as well. One of them includes an evening when we hooked up on 11 different tarpon, landed one, and sent Vic home with a days worth of re-rigging shredded equipment. There'd be no shredding on this night however. The water was too cold and the tide was wrong, but we had Vic in the boat. He felt our best scenario would be to get one bite, and we better make the most of it! The tarpon didn't get the memo, and it wasn't long before Dad was hooked up. In typical tarpon fashion the fish rocketed out of the water immediately, and the chase was on. Vic is a master behind the wheel of his boat, and I've always been amazed at how quickly and perfectly he's able to maneuver into position giving you the best chance to land the fish. Dad did his part as well and rolled the 100 lb. fish boat side, giving us a chance to get some good photos. Tarpon in Islamorada are usually released quickly when landed, taking into account the safety of the fish and the angler. This fish was way too cooperative however not to take advantage of the opportunity.
Again, had the night ended right there we would've been more than satisfied. After the sun set, Vic suggested we give it a little more time and moved us to a different location. I rarely fish at night anymore, but there's something surreal about fishing tarpon after the sun goes down. Every sound and movement becomes amplified, and you can't help but be on the edge of your seat. I noticed these glowing dots that were darting around in the water, and Vic was explaining that they were luminescent micro-organisms. It looked like the water was full of fire flies, and just as I was going to take a picture we were hooked up again. Now I'm not making excuses (yes I am), but remember that I landed a fish the size of a mini van the night before. Every muscle in my body was reminding me of it, and this fish was beating me up bad. Once again Vic made up for it by keeping the boat in good position, and after an hour long battle with several jumps we rolled the most beautiful tarpon I've ever seen. Of course nighttime pictures don't do it justice, but Vic called it a blue back. Apparently there are tarpon that spend most of their time in the gulf stream giving them a light blue appearance and a nasty disposition. Vic estimated it to be around 120 lbs., but I'll tell you that it felt like 200. Now he was probably just trying to make me feel good, but he also said they're the toughest tarpon to land. Either way, I'll take it!
Our third evening brought in a low pressure system with rain and thunderstorms threatening, but we decided to give it a go anyway. My mother Jan was along for the ride this time, and we were hoping she'd get to witness one of these tarpon battles that she's heard so much about over the years. Not long after getting set up flashes of lightning in the distance got our attention, and a quick look at the radar was all we needed to know that this night would be a short one. It was a bit of a bummer to end our trip on that note, but I think we had used up all of our good fortune the previous two nights. You only get so much… I explained to my mother that you've got to get a little skin in the game before you get to see a tarpon. Next time! After a quick ride back to the marina, it was time to part ways with Captain Vic. As I told him later in a message, the pleasure was all ours with or without the fish. Catch you later my friend!