…my personal notes and photos from guiding and fishing in the Florida Keys for close to three decades…by Capt. Randy Brown

    It all started in the early 80s on the Madison River…my pal Glenn Law came up to me one day standing in front of Ed’s Tackle Shop on Main St., Ennis, Montana.Glenn_Law_1

   “Hey RB, I’ve got a good deal.” (This normally means you row and I’ll fish but not this time.)

   “I’ve buddied up to this guy Stu Apte…he’s got some guests from New Zealand in town. We show them a good time on the river and he will take us tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys.”

   “Stu who? What’s a tarpon?”stu_ckb_9_4-83

With Stu Apte at helm, “Mom’s Worry”… Channel Key Banks, Fl. Keys, 1983…photo by Randy Brown


                          With Stu Apte…Florida Bay…1987 (John Field photo) 

          Well…I found out…and then some.

    When you take off from Duck Key and head straight North across Florida Bay and you’re lucky enough to have it slick calm and glassy, which doesn’t happen very often, the air and the water all become one thing. The horizon just blurs into a solid mass of bluish, grayish haze.

   When you look behind and the mainland vanishes you are in the middle of nothing. The open water is zipping by at 4800 RPMS and you strain your eyeballs to find your way…the lobster and stone crab trap buoys go whizzing by…the ballyhoos and finger mullet are cartwheeling through the air…you pick up the twin Yacht Channel markers in the glaze and bear left, find Sprigger green #5 then the Everglades Park marker then Schooner red #6 and green #7 and there it is…what you’re looking for…a blurry hump on the horizon…Sandy Key.

    In the Western, outer part of Florida Bay, Sandy Key was my rock…I could navigate the rest of the spots using Sandy Key…I had to…I never used a compass.(I had one but it broke and I got rid of it)keys_sandy_key                    Sandy Key/Carl Ross Key…Everglades Nat’l. Park, Florida Bay

   Many of the great shallow water tarpon spots in the world are here…Sandy Key Basin, First National Bank, Oxfoot, The Trench, Man Of War, Rabbit Key Basin, Nine Mile Bank, Arsenicker Basin, Buchanan Bank and many others.RB_L._Key_apt.3-83My first year in the Keys..Long Key, March, 1983. The brown upstairs apartment behind me is where I stayed.

   That is where I started…and thirty years later this is where I ended…


 …standing on the Long Key Bridge watching my fishing pliers somersaulting through the air, disappearing into the rolling current and sea foam… rushing through the pilings out into Florida Bay. Only the laughing gulls saw me.laughing_gull_2



   In between, I fished everywhere from Miami to the Marquesas…150 miles of grass, marl, mangroves and adventure…but it gets better, or worse…I kept a log book and I kept some photos…and now I’ll tell you about it…



Me and the late Kathy Guard with a nice tarpon she caught with fly rod off Long Key in 1988…one of my best memories as a fishing guide.


Man Of War                         Loggerhead Basin                Upper Harbor Key             

                NINE MILE MONSTER


This fish was laid up near the first point of Nine Mile Bank. I believe this to be the largest tarpon on fly I ever boated.                                                                                                        tarpon_mouse_2_001

  The 1980s was a great time to be tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys. I got to run around Florida Bay and find fish milling, finning, lollygagging, sleeping, laid up “doggo”. If you could find them they would bite your fly and then some.

                                                                                                                                  my yellow mouse tarpon fly

tarpon_chappell_4I spent a lot of time at Channel Key Banks…a great spot for early season tarpon…strong current, big fish. This fish was caught late 1980s…I was still fishing out of my 1985 Hewes Bonefisher…”Strait Shooter”.rb_big_tarpon


tarpon_releaseRelease at Long Key Beach


                                  Roy Washburn in action…Florida Bay


                                        Jumbo caught at Man Of War Basinkeys_park_permit

                               My Everglades Nat’l. Park Permit…1987


                                          waiting…and hoping…

   In May, many of the top Keys guides were up in Homosassa chasing the “big one”, so the pressure was not that bad. You could always find a place to fish as long as it wasn’t the “Pocket” at Buchanan Bank…that place was always 10 or 12 boats deep even back then. But I never went there…I had plenty of other good spots…and in the 1980s in the Florida Keys, the number one best spot was…The Marquesas.Marquesas1


                                      Marquesas sunset

keys_marquesas_3  tarpon_marquesas_2keys_marquesas_sunset      I probably spent 100 days in the Marquesas in the 1980s and 1990s and it was usually worth the 50 mile drive down from Marathon to Garrison Bight and the 22 mile run across from Key West to the promised land. Tarpon were rolling near the stop sign on the West side, laid up on the inside, swimming and daisy-chaining on the outside. The largest daisy chain of tarpon I ever saw was at the Marquesas…over 200 fish. tarpon_marquesas

   One of the great pleasures I had fishing the Keys was the chance to run to the Marquesas. My favorite time was anytime the wind was down…the tarpon were almost always there. We used to time our run over and then back with the slack tide…crossing Boca Grande Channel when the current was running could rattle your dentures! keys_hewes_bThe fastest I ever made the run from Garrison Bight to the Southeast side was 55 minutes, balls out, flat calm, 5000rpm!keys_marquesas_launch

Double Hewes Bonefishers on the 60′ Hatteras for our Marquesas trip…Southwest  beach outside of Mooney Harbor…looks like a James Bond movie ready to launch!

I was lucky enough to get booked for a five-day overnight trip to the Marquesas in 1988…tied up my Hewes to a 60 foot Hatteras and woke up every morning with tarpon rolling right outside my window. Just putt-putt over there and have at ’em! I had many days I only saw one or two guide boats.geo._anderson_marquesas

I took this photo of George Anderson right after he busted a new Winston 12 weight on a big tarpon in the Marquesas. We were fishing the Northwest corner near the old Stop Sign.


tarpon_becker                                             Becker is hooked up!



      Nice fish taken at Man Of War Basin, Everglades Park and released alive.


                                  Big One from Florida Bay…released.


            Solid fiberglass JK Fisher two piece tarpon fly rod…”The Anesthetizer” in full parabolic mode from the bow of my skiff inflicting extreme stress and discomfort upon a large tarpon. I took this photo in Coupon Bight, circa early 1990s.



                                       Rudi Heger 



      Rudi Heger tarpon fishing from belly boat off my skiff, Bayside Long Key. Rudi is the owner of Traun River Products…a fly fishing retailer outside of Munich, Germany. One morning Rudi hooked a tarpon of some 80 lbs. from the belly boat and the fish took off for the Bay towing Rudi behind like a water skiier. Luckily, the fish jumped off or Rudi would still be out there!


   My other favorite place to fish in my early days in the Keys was Florida Bay. In the 1980s and 1990s, Nine Mile Bank was almost a sure thing. There was almost always tarpon laying up between the First and Second Point near the “elbow”…you could bank on it, especially early in the year. I caught many many tarpon in January, February and March back there before the ocean migration got started. tarpon_chappell_2



Rabbit Key Basin, Man O War Basin, Sandy Key Basin, First National, Oxfoot and Schooner and Channel Key Banks were right up there with it. Later on in the Spring, the long, crooked Nine Mile Bank had a bayside migration of its own.keys_moonlighter         

                                              In my old Hewes using a Moonlighter push pole 


In March and April, Coupon Bight and Loggerhead Basin were a couple of my favorites, often times holding very large tarpon laid up like logs. A lot of people said the tarpon in Coupon would not eat but I had pretty good luck in there in the 1980s and 1990s….you had to be lucky and good and catch one in the right mood! Several fly rod world record tarpon came out of Coupon in the 1970s, 1980s before Homosassa took over.

   One day in the Bight, Bob Guard threw at a laid up fish with me on the pole. At first I thought it was two fish but as I got closer I realized it was the largest tarpon I had ever seen. Bob made a perfect cast a couple of feet in front of its face, let it settle, stripped it out, and the fish never moved. He made another perfect cast and the monster just slowly turned its head and swam away. That fish was over 200 pounds.tarpon_coupon_bight


     The fly reel is a rare John Emery model designed for large tarpon by the famous Keys guide


                       keys_wooden_bridge                              OUT BACK

    When you leave the lagoon at the Old Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp at Big Pine Key, you putt-putt under the No Name Bridge, jump up and head North. If it’s blowing from the East you catch the lee at Porpoise Key and left of the bank at Mayo Key, staying up real shallow so as not to spook the tarpon in the basin…find the homemade stakes leading to Bogie Channel…cut hard left through Apte Gap to get to the ocean or stay to the right and snake your way through the stakes, past Annette and Cutoe Keys, coming out at Howe Key Basin and you make a decision…left through the pass between Big Torch and South Water Keys to the Content Keys, or right to Upper Harbor Key or maybe Spanish Banks. lower_keys_white_heron

   Or just head straight Northeast from Wooden Bridge to find… Little Pine Key, Johnsons, Horseshoe, Sandfly, West Bahia Honda, East Bahia Honda, Jack Bank, The Fish Box,  or all the way over to Sideboard Bank.keys_flat_calm_glass_1

    Down lower there was Knockemdown, Monster Point, Tarpon Belly, Raccoon and a few other little “hidey holes”…and there were always the baby tarpon spots I could duck into when needed.tarpon_jack_bank

                                   yay Fritz!


   We caught this one at Hommel’s Corner on a very windy day…outside Loggerhead Basin near Bow Channel




   tarpon_brian_king                                      Brian King with a nice one.  tarpn_McCausland_1 

     Sam McCausland fights a big tarpon in Loggerhead Basin…photo by Harry Spear


Me and Tom Schell rasslin’ another one.


Andy caught this one off West Point between Loggerhead Key and Bow Channel


                                                Horseshoe Key 


Me and Bob Benson with a tarpon caught at Southeast Point…sometimes called the Bongo Holes!

  Just before the major ocean run started I liked to sneak up to Key Largo in April. The big schools of tarpon that have been laid up all winter in Government Cut, Miami and Biscayne Bay start to leave the deep water and migrate South. They leave via Caesars or Broad C. or Angelfish and work their way down the coast. Huge schools and strings of one hundred fish plus are common.Pennekamp    I would launch the skiff at John Pennekamp State Park and work North toward Carysfort and Dynamite Docks. About the only guides I would see would be Steve Huff or John Kipp… maybe Harry Spear or Dale Perez. I loved Key Largo.

                    Miracles Do Happen



   The tarpon pictured above was caught on my yellow mouse fly by Max Wieland on June 13, 1995. Max travelled all the way from Germany to fulfill his dream of catching a tarpon on a fly. After days of failure and crummy weather, we set off on his last day in the USA before he had to take the long flight home. The morning was dark and dreary and clouded out. I told Max our chances were slim. He wanted to try one last time. We set out from Duck Key but didn’t go far…we couldn’t…it was white caps and spray, so I shut down and staked up behind a bank on the Bayside of Conch Key. Max stood up in the bow and could barely keep his balance…it was gusting 25 knots from the South. It started to spit rain. My skiff was pitching and rolling. I was just about to scrub the trip, when off to the port side a large tarpon rolled in the chop. I pulled the pole and pushed over to the left. I said “Max, just make a cast over there, you never know”.  He threw over into the gloom and made one strip. A huge tarpon rolled up and inhaled the yellow fly and Max came tight. Over the next several minutes I was sure this big fish would come off…but I was wrong…the fly stayed stuck and Max fought him close. I reached and grabbed the fish with my glove hand while Max shot photos…he was ecstatic…the fish was well over 100 pounds.

   Max says “that’s it, we’re done, let’s go celebrate”…we spent the rest of the morning at Hawk’s Cay drinking chardonnay and yukking it up..out of the wind…out of the rain…and believing in miracles. 

   When the ocean run got going full bore I spent most of my time between Long Key, Duck Key and Grassy Key.

tarpon_Long_Key_Point    One of my favorite tarpon photos…shot off Long Key Point while fishing

     with Steve Cook and Gene Tennyson. You can barely see the Channel Five  Bridge in the background…May 29, 1990.                                                



Frankie Wolfson on the bow of my old Hewes, Archer Key Basin near Key West, circa 1990.


   My man Keith…on March 19 & 20, 1994 he hooked nineteen tarpon on plug and fly gear at Nine Mile Bankwe had some fun! 


   Just about every day at a certain time in the tide I could expect enough tarpon to come by to offer some good shots with the fly rod…at times there would be hundreds of fish. If that country dried up I would trailer down to the public ramp on Little Torch or further down to Sugarloaf and sample the oceanside flats there, or travel even further to Key West and fish the tarpon grounds to the West…Seven Channels, Archer Key Basin, Woman and Ballast Keys, Boca Grande…Pearl Basin, Calda and the Tower Flats, where I could usually find Jose Wejebe.

         The late Capt. Jose Wejebe…the “Spanish Fly”…a great fisherman and a friend…he loved the Tower Flats…RIP


Lunch on the Madison with Jose, Bernice and Stu Apte. I took this photo in Aug., 1985. 


                                                               Stu and Jose

   And as the big moon in May got closer, everybody would talk worms…palolo worms…relaunching skiffs later in the day to sit on the worm runs from Broad Ck. to the Marquesas…with most of the attention focused on Bahia Honda.


   The Old Bahia Honda Bridge…thousands of tarpon congregate here in the Springtime…rolling and feeding and waiting for worms.



                                    My favorite home-tie worm patterns.


             Large tarpon with a worm fly stuck in his upper lip!


      My tarpon fly box with worm flies, toads and other “getters”.



   I was lucky enough to hit the worm hatch at Bahia Honda, Tom’s Harbor, Sugarloaf Ck and Long Key a few times. One night I sat at the Bahia Honda worm bar by myself and hooked seven tarpon on a fly. I will never forget that night because I saw something I never saw before…a boat right next to me had a triple header hook-up on tarpon…three anglers…three fish on at once…chaos!



                 Baby Tarpon…Big Fun




tarpon_Goldman_brothers                                                                              The Goldman brothers



   This is the only tarpon I ever had mounted…it was caught on a fly at Horseshoe Key by my angler and was bleeding. I took it to George Cornish at Summerland Key and he made a mount. It was the first and last tarpon I ever killed. We should all do whatever we can to preserve these great fish.






 The early saltwater fly reels built by Frank Catino were from solid bar stock and fun to fish! I still own a matched, numbered set of Catino bonefish and tarpon fly reels.

       From my daily log I added up the tarpon catch numbers over the years…total tarpon hooked: 1532…total landed: 438. The best years were 1994,95,96 where we hooked 154, 127,117 respectively. The totals include tarpon of all sizes and age classes…from 5 pound babies to 150 pound jumbos.




A titch under 40lbs…caught by Keith Aragi…southeast side of the Marquesas…March 30, 1993…guided by Randy Brown…released alive.



This great fish was featured in an article in the March, 1992 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.



                                   Spear epoxy crab fly



   permit_neil_bolton  permit_at_big_torch


   My good client Keith Aragi from Connecticut caught these three permit in less than one hour off E. Content Key. They just kept coming in waves! All were released.



          Lenny Berg and Woody Sexton…two great characters I knew well!




                             John and Jack Siragusa






                         Happy New Year, 1995…caught at Horseshoe Key…released. 


     Barry Meyer caught this whopper out in front of Marathon…it was 45 lbs…

      a potential World Record released alive.



     Bus Bergmann and me with a nice fly-caught permit…Grassy Key, oceanside. 





Both of these anglers threw crabs at two permit at the same time…both reels went off…I thought we had a double…except one permit ate both crabs. Incredibly, both hooks stayed in and both these guys fought and landed the same fish…I videoed this rodeo and tape exists somewhere.  We were fishing off Monkey Bank, Lower Keys, March, 1991.permit_rb_5



                               Bob Sztoric…caught off Upper Harbor Key


                     We caught this one on the light bottom off Big Torch Key




                                    Permit fishing at Mud Keys…1989.



                Caught at Last Chance Flat near Cottrell Key, 1987.perrmit_alde             

      Alde Feskanin…caught out in front of Marathon.






                                           Jose Nunez Jr., Capt. Albert Ponzoa





           Fly caught permit…21 lbs…early 1990s

 permit_rb_4I’m sure I caught this one but I don’t remember how big, how many, what, where or when!

Jays_permit_001         Jay Weinberg from Philly…one of the good guys!


   The last permit I released in the Keys…May, 2012

Permit catch totals during my time in the Keys…138 hooked, 94 caught, 12 on fly.



                                 Del Brown, 1918-2003

   I was living in Marathon and just starting my guide career when the word spread around town…Del Brown had just caught the largest permit ever on a fly rod…41 lbs, 8 oz on 8 lb tippet. Down at Hall’s Bait & Tackle the Keynoter newspaper photographer was on the scene..

Del_Brown_record_permit_86It was a remarkable catch on a fly rod, but it was no accident. Del Brown went on to catch hundreds more and left this earth with 513 total. Steve Huff told me he was sure this one was a record fish and they fought it for a long time, ending up out in the deep water. They finally got it close and Steve was ready to hit it with the kill gaff when a tarpon rolled right next to the permit and spooked it. Luckily, it stayed hooked and the rest is history.



     I was lucky to know Del and he was quite a guy…always enthusiastic and ready to talk permit fishing. Of all the fishing records people keep, I’m betting no one will top 513 permit on a fly.Del_Brown_and_RB_2


                       Check out Del’s belt buckle.                                             


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      THE GRAY GHOST

When I first hit the Keys in the early 1980s, the bonefishing was unreal. Large fish and lots of them,…swimming,tailing, mudding by the hundreds. I naively thought it would always be like this. I was wrong. The numbers declined, and the really large fish disappeared for the most part. But for a period of time, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Florida Keys was the bonefish capital of the world.




Me and Bob Hewes. He invented the flats skiff and probably advanced flats fishing more than anyone. His Hewes Bonefisher became world famous.

He lived right down the street from the Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp on Big Pine. I chatted with him often. He knew boats! He liked my boat!


 Old brochure for the “New Hewes Bonefisher II”…that’s “The One Eyed Indian”, Capt. Bill Curtis from Miami on the pole. He pretty much invented chumming for bonefish in Biscayne Bay.l_key_bone_5



        Whopper caught by John Siragusa out in front of Marathon





Long Key was one of my favorite bonefish spots…both outside on the beach and inside in the Bight…I caught my first tailing bonefish on fly wade fishing Long Key Beach…the two or three best days I ever had bonefishing were at Long Key…seven for ten on Feb.26, 1989 and eight for ten on March 17, 1996.  At times when the tide was right, Long Key Bight would get rammed with fish, schools and pods, mudders, swimmers and tailers. It truly was a great spot.  That’s an old SA System Two reel and a Sage 890 RPL rod.bonefish_trophy_1



       Mary Bartz…a fine lady and angler…Mary held many women’s saltwater IGFA and IWFA records on 2lb. and 4lb. test line. I loved trying to tie those Bimini Twists with 2lb. for her when the wind was blowing 20K…cat’s in the cradle! 

    We caught this one in Largo Sound. I believe it was 4 pound test. She always paid her guide fee in $100 bills! This was sometime in the late 1980s while Mary and her husband Ted were both working at Hall’s Bait & Tackle in Marathon.keys_halls

 The old Hall’s Bait & Tackle Shop in Marathon, Florida Keys…long since out of business, it was THE place to buy bait, tackle and flies in the 1980s.

   My Hewes Redfisher,  “Strait Shooter”…brand new in 1995 at my place in Grassy Key…it didn’t stay new very long!keys_hewes_redfisher


    Here’s a weird one…a bonefish on a rubber worm…this was at Little Pine Key throwing at baby tarpon…and I caught another one with a purple worm around Marathon casting for barracudas. Who knew?



 Casting to a tailing bonefish and then catching it!  Nine Mile Bank.








                                                   Nine Mile Bank


                bonefish_mindy_2        after catching this big fish Mindy decided to take a dip…

Mindy_C_2            Some days I love my job…this was one of them.


bonefish_Andy_Baxter            Caught at Long Key Beach…1990s.




    In the 1980s and 1990s, there were two places in the Keys you could hope to find Bahamas type bonefish numbers…Key Largo and Nine Mile Bank.

   Up at Largo, fishing the coastline from Elliott Key down to the Airport Flat, hundreds of bonefish could be found on the right tide and right weather, with schools of over 100 fish quite common. They would swim down the coast and then back up…in waves…black bullets pushing a wake that could be seen hundreds of yards away. Bonanzas could be had with catches of over a dozen bonefish in a day a real possibility.bonefish_double_header

    Nine Mile Bank, especially in the 1980s before the algae blooms killed acres of seagrass in the Bay, also hosted big schools of bonefish with not only numbers but size to go with it. Bonefish over 10 pounds were quite common back there, and large mudding schools of 30, 40 fish or more were on the prowl.  One could also expect to land a real trophy size fish of 10, 12, 14 pounds or larger.

   The Keys still holds bonefish of large size today, but sadly the numbers are down. I feel lucky to have bonefished during the heyday, when both size and numbers were available for both the angler and guide.


      This fish was caught at the Jo Jo’s flat, oceanside Grassy Key in the late 1980s. In those days, if you knew the tides, catching tailers at Jo Jo’s at sundown and past sunset was almost a sure thing. I spent a lot of time there fishing myself and with clients…both wading and poling my skiff. It was quite common to see 50, 60 bonefish tailing at sundown on this flat, and many of them were whoppers!


                Wading the Jo Jo’s flat for bonefish.




                                                        Caught on Nine-Mile Bank.







      My bonefish flys…I mainly used two patterns…a standard Gotcha with Kraft Fur and chrome eyes for deep water swimmers and mudders…and the yellow fly with bead chain eyes for tailers and shallow water fish…size 4 and 6.

               Bonefish tally from my time in the Keys:

      872 hooked, 567 landed. My best bonefish year was 1989…the numbers slowly declined from then until now. In recent years, redfish have moved into bonefish spots. The High School Flat, a well-known bonefish spot out in front of Marathon, has now become a redfish flat and redfish have moved into several other flats in the Lower Keys where you never used to see them. Not sure if this is a water quality or water temperature issue.


 Tom “Rozy” Rosenthal fighting a redfish near Sandy Key, Everglades Nat’l. Pk. Photo by “Florida Joe” Fidor.rosy_redfish_1

redfish_Bugsy__Stan_2George “Bugsy” Wojtusiak and Stan Zawacki near Sandy Key



 Dave from the Madison River Fishing Co. with a backcountry double: redfish and black drum on the fly…guided by Capt. Randy Brown


                                                                              Rick Feskanin…nice redfish.



                                         THE GRAND SLAM

   There are Grand Slams of many types…North American Sheep…baseball has a Grand Slam home run…contract bridge has a Grand Slam…there is a billfish Grand Slam…tennis has a Grand Slam…golf has a Grand Slam. But on the flats, the Grand Slam means catching a bonefish, tarpon and permit by the same angler in one day. I have had a few…





Keith Aragi from Brookfield Ct. had four Flats Grand Slams while fishing with me through the years. The last one could have easily been a Double Slam. We caught two bonefish and two tarpon during the day in the backsountry, then headed for the ocean flat at Sunshine Key late in the day to catch the falling tide. Poling down sun to the East, I looked across the white sand and had to blink to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Across the white bottom here comes a big stingray with not one, not two, but THREE nice permit following the ray. Keith makes a good cast and we hook up one of the fish, landing it in good time to complete the slam. Now here comes another permit and we hook up again for the Double Slam and the fish breaks off right next to the boat as I am reaching with the net. Quite the amazing feat for the fine angler!







Jack Siragusa…Flats Grand Slam…Nov. 29, 2008…permit at Spanish Banks…bonefish and tarpon at Cutoe Key…photos and casting advice courtesy of Nick Stanczyk. Fear the “U”!


           The Smitty and Alex Grand Slamkeys_smitty__alex

This is a special award…two guys party hardy in Key West the night before and go after the Grand Slam which they might have gotten if Smitty hadn’t fallen out of the boat and Alex hadn’t died laughing so hard he could barely cast. Bonefish, tarpon and a permit in their dreams. Had a lot of fun with these guys!

                   AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON…




    I kept log books…lots of them…over 30 years worth…I would write down the days highlights (and lowlights)…note the tides and the flats where I found fish. I would transfer the daily notes into a big, thick, ugly-ass three ring binder. I would make zerox copies of charts and put them in the binder. I would copy the NOAA tide charts and mark where I should go for a particular day….then the morning of the trip I would write down the tides and list the four or five stops I planned to make on the back of an old business card and keep it in my pocket. This card would be my bible for the day…I would check it constantly for the tides and where I should be headed. This kept me focused and kept me from wandering or prospecting. I learned to NEVER go prospecting with paying clients in the boat…it’s poison. I never headed out without a plan for the day.

   The tides were always my number one key to the day…TIDES NEVER LIE (well, almost never).


     The monthly NOAA tide charts and my notes…upper left is the card I carried on every trip with the tides for the day and my scheduled stops…I always had a plan…it  didn’t always work but at least I had it!keys_chart_1                 I would zerox sections of charts so I could mark the spots I found fish.



    keys_rb_millers                     Millers Bait and Tackle in Marathon where I worked in the early 80s.

 Killing tarpon for a mount was common when I started in the Keys in the early 1980s.  Captains encouraged it because we got a hefty commission from the taxidermists for sending business their way. Nowadays, you can still get your trophy mounted without killing the fish…just take a photo and a few measurements and release the fish alive. The taxidermist can do the rest.


Pot bust at Bud & Mary’s in Islamorada, Fl. Keys, “The Fishing Capitol of the World”. The Feds just let me walk up the dock and take photos in March, 1983.islamorada_coke_sign



   Capt. Harry Snow Jr. at his dock at Sugarloaf. He probably knew more about bonefish in the Lower Keys than any man who ever lived. He told me he started bonefishing with his father in the 1940s using a casting reel with linen line, a pyramid sinker and a hunk of hermit crab for bait. He said he played softball as a kid in the middle of the Overseas Hwy. in Marathon. They would have to stop about once an hour to let a car go by. One day in March of 1989 I bumped into Harry at the end of the day and asked how he did:

 “It was good today…we caught thirteen”.

    He never used crab for permit, just shrimp…if he couldn’t get shrimp he would use a pink Millie jig tipped with half of an orange plastic worm. He caught plenty of permit that way.

   He always used wire for his tarpon fly “tippets”.

   Once he told me how to find one of his secret bonefish chum spots:

   “Just pole over there to the mangrove point and look for the coke bottles.” He had them piled there from 40 years of fishing that spot.

   I learned so much from that man. I will never forget him.


   If you grew up in Ohio like I did, you knew all about John “Hondo” Havlicek…star player for Ohio State and the Bostic Celtics, number 17…”Havlicek stole the ball!!!”  We spent a great day on the water…he had many stories about Bobby Knight most of which I can’t repeat! John was a great guy and fun to fish with and he was nice enough to sign this for me!


   In the 1980s it was fairly common to find mutton snappers on the flats…either tailing, following sting rays or nurse sharks. The flats to the West of Key West were prime and the Marquesas was the best. We caught this one off E. Content Key.


     This  Great White Shark weighed 1100 pounds. It was caught by Capt. Bob Taute off the Islamorada Humps on a whole amberjack. They put the huge fish in the back of a refrigerated truck and paraded it around Marathon, stopping at the bait shops and drawing a crowd. It was the third Great White caught in the Keys while I was living there.



 I ran up on these beached sperm whales off Snipe Pt. in the Lower Keys backcountry, Spring of 1988. No one really knows why whales and dolphins do mass beachings, although there are many theories. These were large whales, around 50′ in length.keys_jewfish

   This jewfish weighed 319 pounds. I took this photo at Bonefish Harbor Marina on Grassy Key in the early 1990s when it was legal to keep jewfish. It was caught on 

 half of a large barracuda in Florida Bay.


   Me and Capt. Nat Ragland, “The Senator”, one of the top guides in the Keys. Nat got his start working on the “Flipper” TV show in Miami…I never could quite figure out exactly what he did with Flipper, but anyway…not only was Nat a talented flats guide he was a wizard at rigging a flats boat…a master electrician, he could wire anything and was an artist with the Dremel Tool. He invented the Puff permit fly and had so many stories about Billy Pate, Homosassa and the wild parties at Sugarloaf Lodge…he was one funny, talented dude. One time we ran a trip together and pulled into Little Palm Island for lunch with large party of anglers. That’s about all I can remember!

   Nat was the greatest!


keys_on_point               On point in my Hewes…waiting for tarpon


   In January of 2013, I sold the boat, sold the house, loaded up the U-Haul, left the Keys, and moved back to Montana full time. Now it’s all rainbows and brown trout…dry flys and streamers.  

   So many stories, flashbacks, glints and glimmers of sunlit flats and shadows…then light. A tail, a swirl, a boil, a bite…what a great time I had.