“Well brother,” he drawled, with a slow, toothy smile spreading across his face, “I think we can make that happen.”
Usually anglers arrive in the Florida Keys with much loftier goals, and for good reason. A 1,700-island archipelago stretching 200 kilometres southwest from Miami into the Atlantic, the Keys are one of North America’s great fishing destinations. Extensive shallow flats and backcountry inlets offer heart-stopping fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit, plus barracuda, snook, redfish and amberjack. And a few kilometres offshore, you can troll for dorado, billfish, tuna and wahoo, or jig the reefs for a variety of snappers, mackerel and groupers, including goliaths. Then there are the sharks, which are everywhere, from cuddly sizes all the way up to man-eaters.
But after two recent, extremely humbling trips to trophy waters in both eastern and western Canada, where the fish—and the weather—were spectacularly uncooperative, it seemed prudent to aim low. Plus, I was staying in the city of Key West, where there were plenty of other things to do besides fishing.
Long known as a refuge for eccentrics, runaways and artists, including that mighty angler Ernest Hemingway, Key West’s compact downtown boasts an astonishing density of bars, clubs, restaurants and shops. So I decided to enjoy some key lime pie and a few blender drinks, then focus on field testing the Performance Fishing Gear clothing supplied by trip sponsor Columbia Sportswear. If I caught a couple of snappers off the dock, I’d go home happy.
As it turned out, I went home very, very happy.
Over the course of three days on the ocean, I used a variety of techniques to battle several dozen fish, among them eight species I’d never even seen before, ranging in size from five to 200 pounds. I also had a couple of jaw-dropping experiences that left even my seasoned guides shaking their heads in disbelief. In more or less chronological order, here’s a species-by-species rundown of how I put an end to my angling dry spell…