SW of The Marquesas at sunset…May, 1988
(Randy Brown photo)
I fished and guided anglers in the Florida Keys for 30 years. On a rare occasion, there would be a video camera on board the boat…usually one of the cheapo, hand held, low-tech gizmos…but sometimes decent. A lot of film was shot by anglers, wives, girlfriends, buddies…and a lot by me. It was a shaky operation for sure…most of the film was poor quality, upside down sideways stuff…kinda like convenience store surveillance tape. This was the 1980s-90s… before IPhones… before photoshop…before GoPros…before the internet was invented by Al Gore.
There were no fancy film crews…just a camera in the boat run by amateurs…bouncing around in my flats skiff…doing the best we could. The quality is mostly poor, grainy video but it is real. It is the way it was.
Some of my anglers sent me VHS tapes which I watched once or twice on the VCR then stored them away in boxes. Some have been buried for nearly 30 years, gathering dust, lost, forgotten.
Wading the Jo-Jo’s flat for bonefish with George Kelly and Victor Colvard…Grassy Key, April, 1987
(Randy Brown photo)
One day I rediscovered them…unpacked them…had them converted to computer- compatible and re-watched the show. Quite a few shows actually. Several tarpon, bonefish and permit adventures survived the cut.
Some chaos, trash talking, mild panic attacks, screw-ups and salt water shenanigans…and a few nice fish.
If you are looking for slicked up high-tech glitzy vids with Star Wars special effects and heavy metal background music, forget it. No headbanger stuff here. This footage is raw. But it’s real…the way it happened. The view is the white caps, the wind blowing hard, the chop and sometimes the slick calm, all shot from the deck of my Hewes Bonefisher.
Poling my skiff…Mud Keys, 1989.
I will be posting video clips on Facebook, YouTube and on this site over the next several weeks.
One final note…these videos cover several days of fishing over several years. Of all the fish caught, EVERY SINGLE FISH WAS RELEASED ALIVE TO SWIM AWAY. I believe we should do all we can to protect this unique fishery…
For starters, here’s a fun one from 1991…me getting ripped off by a big tarpon on fly rod…
A quick little permit vid…
Watch a 12 lb. tailing bonefish caught on fly
150lb. tarpon jumps 14 times!
Tarpon daisy chain in Rabbit Key Basin
Sea Turtle foreplay on the white sand
Wintertime tarpon on the fly
Permit at Big Torch Key
Tarpon at the Bongo Holes
Bonefishing Splained and Testified!
Amazing Permit Tale!
Tarpon in the Wind
Keys Cuda Show 1986
I get asked a lot about the changes in the Florida Keys through the years. I guess I have a good perspective overlooking the 30 years I spent there.
When I started in the early 1980s, the water in Florida Bay was crystal clear. We would go out to Schooner Bank and fish for trout and drift over acres and acres of lush, green sea grass waving underneath us…and now that grass is brown or dead and the water is murky or dish water or sometimes pea-soup.
Photo of Fla. Bay water taken recently…a far cry from what I used to see in the 1980s.
This is how the turtle grass looked in Florida Bay in the early 1980s.
When I started in the early 1980s, the barracudas on the flats would bite just about anything you threw at them. Now they just swim away unimpressed.
When I started guiding, the bonefish were plentiful. If you figured the tides for a spot you could usually count on the bones to show up…hundreds and hundreds on the oceanside flats at Key Largo or the gin clear grass flats of Nine Mile Bank or the Gulf-edge flats of the Lower Keys. The top bonefish guides would catch eight, ten, a dozen bonefish in a day.
Nowadays, the bonefish are getting slim…the water is murky…the redfish are moving into the old bonefish flats.
I could always find tailing bonefish at sundown at Jo Jo’s, Walkers Island, Tavernier or Long Key State Park…lots of places. Tailers are now tough to find.
Throwing a live blue crab at a permit used to be like feeding candy to a baby. These days permit are just as likely to refuse a crab!
When I started guiding the tarpon flies were large, gaudy, blaze orange/red/black/purple clumps of chicken feathers and rabbit/squirrel tail tied on 4/0 hooks using 100 lb. hard Mason bite tippet.
These days the guides use “slim-jim” worm flies tied with a thin sliver of fur strip tied on a #2 hook and maybe no shock tippet at all. It’s common to throw at hundreds of tarpon in May in the Keys all day long and never get a sniff.
There are so-called “guides” that will take you out to one of the bridges at night and drift the boat blind casting flies to tarpon in the dark.
These “captains” belong in the same category as car thieves, pick pockets and scam artists. The tarpon get hooked up and eaten by sharks cruising the bridges at night while the fly lines get sawed off on bridge pilings. Tarpon deserve a better fate.
Do it the right way or don’t do it all.
Avoid these shysters if you care at all about the welfare of the tarpon.
The top tarpon guides in the Keys can still get the tarpon to bite the fly…book the best guide you can to give yourself a chance. They are some of the best fishermen in the world.
And organizations like the Bonefish & TarponTrust are doing some good work on behalf of the fish…here is a link to their site…support them if you can…CLICK HERE
It’s not all doom and gloom. The redfish are everywhere. The snook fishery is healthy. You can still catch a nice mess of mangrove snapper for dinner…yum!
The spanish mackerel are plentiful in the Bay during the winter months…and the offshore/reef fishing is still very good.
Nothing stays the same. There is still great beauty in the Keys and excellent fishing if you know where to look.
Now back to more videos!
Worm Bar Tarpon
Woman Key Permit
Live Permit Release
Nine Mile Bonefish
The Captain Gets Lucky
Out Back Permit
Garden Cove Bone
Rising Tide Permit
Patty Bags A Bone
Long Key Tarpon on the Fly