Thursday, November 13, 2008

The weather was there ... wish I were too

Betsy and I just got back from the beach. Why we came back, we’re still not sure, but we had a great time while we were there. The panhandle of Florida is a great place to be anytime of the year, but we prefer the fall – when the beaches are empty, the temperature reaches a perfect level and the water is full of hungry fish.

After an absolutely absurd three-year layoff from vacations, we made the most of this one, taking our time to do whatever we wanted … including absolutely nothing. I did manage to complete a couple of paintings, and did more than my fair share of fishing.

I’m a surf-fishing addict, and the cooler water in October and November brings all sorts of baitfish in close, followed by predators of all shapes, colors and sizes. More precisely, I’m a fly-fishing-in-the-surf addict, and I was blessed with some prime opportunities to target schools of enormous ladyfish, marauding pods of little tunny, cruising caravans of red drum and the occasional appearance of the prized pompano. With varying success, I caught all of them. But the little tunnies were the most fun to catch.

They’re in the tuna family, and appropriately live up to the reputation of their bigger brothers as first-rate ocean brawlers. They attacked in groups of two to 10 fish, suddenly materializing from the deeper trough between the first and second sandbars and torpedoing across the bar in pursuit of schools of glass minnows. I could spot the splashes as they fed on the sandbar just to my west and would strip out enough line to make a long cast and wait for them to appear. Once they arrived, I’d fire a cast to the leading fish, then retrieve the fly as fast as I possibly could.

Little tunnies are notoriously picky eaters, meaning I had to “match the hatch” almost exactly, resulting in me rifling through my fly-box on several occasions. But, once I got the right one, they ate it and ran. And ran. And ran some more. The first run with a tuna is a good ‘un, as they go deep into your backing on a scorching, forked-tail propelled sprint to deeper water. After that, you do your best to gain your line back, constantly keeping pressure on the fish and keeping a powerful angle on the rod to let my tackle do most of the hard work.

I hooked many, but didn’t always land them. Fish like this test your skill … and your knots. To borrow a line from Capt. Gordie Hinds, I practiced quite a bit of “conservation through incompetence.” But, I did get lucky a few times.

Betsy drew immeasurable entertainment watching me sprint up and down the beach in pursuit of the schools of fish; fly-rod in one hand, tackle bag slung over my shoulder, panting and weezing as I hurriedly passed gawking retirees out for their morning walk on the beach. But, it was all worth it.

Here are few pictures from our wonderful two weeks at the beach.

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