Irma descended upon the Caribbean in early September with relentless waves. A class 5 hurricane, it left a trail of destruction and despair in its wake. It was hoped that it might avoid landfall in the southern states but by September 10th was barrelling down on Cudjoe Key packing a 130 mile per hour punch. Irma grinded her way up the Florida panhandle before setting its sights to the north as far as Nova Scotia.
Big Pine Key is the most amazing fishing experience I’ve ever been a part of. Over the years of guiding and underachieving (fish bumming around) I’ve been fortunate to chase fish all over the world and none have had the impression tarpon in the keys have had on me. First, there’s the weather and I just love the heat. Next, is that clear blue water we all dream about on those long days at the office. Third, is the life that’s all around your skiff from giant sharks to small nesting sea birds. Lastly of course, is the fishing.
Tarpon fishing on the flats is an experience that always scared me. Not the sharks, not the size of the fish, not even the cast, all of which I am unfamiliar with, but the addiction of it all. I’d seen videos of the chromest chrome fish on the whitest white flats erupting into an instant frenzy 20 feet from the boat. I didn’t know the drug, but I was afraid I needed it.
I’m by no means an expert tarpon angler, actually I suck. I mean really truly bad. A day guiding me consists of sighs and phrases like “just ten feet further” or “ohhhh okay fish that cast out.” My buddies tell me it’s payback for all the times I’ve dished it out over the years; I guess they’re right. But in that time, I’ve experienced my first tarpon, many more after, have seen 150 pounders freight train their way madly into the distance, schools crushing paolo worms in every direction and monsters gutting schools of mullet in the moonlight and I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be standing with a fly rod in my hand. So when I heard Irma’s eye was frothing and spiting right over Big Pine, there I was worried again if I’d get my next tarpon fix.
The Silver Lining. I mean how could there be one after storm Irma? I saw images of boats scattered down the highway, trees pulled from the ground and even houses in tatters. CNN was one countdown clock away from calling it THE TROPIC VORTEX. It all had to affect the fishing right? Not so much.
Ryan Phinney of Phin Chasers guiding in Big Pine, and a good friend of Epic told me the real impact of the storm is that “everyones business slows down” at times like this. The incessant news cycles don’t allow for many positives and the tourists stop flowing. That said, for those of us that don’t mind mining a little chaos the fishing isn’t damaged; on the contrary, it’s excellent.
“Well the weathers great now and fishing is awesome” says Phinney, and why wouldn’t it be. These storms have some localized habitat damage but the environment sees big storms every year and conditions ebb and flow like the tide. The adult tarpon go largely unaffected and “the angling pressure is very light whether off shore or on the flats. It’s really nice out there and super productive.”
Join Us. I know I’m incredibly excited to head back to our ocean front mansion this May, sip a couple cocktails and soak in that keys life, hell maybe even disappoint a guide or two. If you wish to come with Epic and experience this unforgettable fishery please contact me at [email protected] or give us a call at 1-866-846-9153. You won’t be disappointed.