After fishing the Everglades and 10,000 Islands for the last few days, I headed down to Key West via the “Key West Express” ferry. Once there, and after a solo lunch and a couple beers at Turtle Kraals, I was picked up by a childhood friend who now lives on a 35′ catamaran in the area. For the next five days, I would be living on his boat, and fishing and sailing whenever we could.
Day 1 brought moderate winds, and we met up with my friend’s buddy, a local who owns a beautiful 26′ Grady White center console. We loaded up fly fishing rods, spear guns, and two cases of Coors Light and headed toward Pelican Shoal.
Once there, my buddy and the captain jumped in with spear guns, and swam around through the coral and sandy canyons of the reef. I rigged up my 10 wt fly rod and started catching small reef fish, hoping for something bigger like a grouper or yellow jacks.
Soon enough, a nice barracuda (about 15 lb) showed up, and swam around inspecting the spear fishermen, the boat, and occasionally my fly. Knowing that cuda love to eat needlefish, I tied on a 6″ long clouser-style needlefish fly, put on a wire trace, and started sight casting, leading the fish by a few feet. I experimented with a few retrieves, but found that a double-handed retrieve, done as fast as possible, started to get the cuda wound up, until eventually he hit the fly…hard.
What happened next will remain etched in my memory. I set the hook, and my line hissed through the water to the left. 60 feet to my right, the cuda shot from the water, crashing down with a huge splash. I kept reeling to take up the slack, turning to face the fish, when he leaped twice more, grey-hounding to the left on the other side of the boat. Worried the fish would tangle up with the spear fishermen, I cranked down on the drag and starting working him in. 10 minutes later, he was boatside, gun-metal silver in the midday sun.
After celebrating with a beer (and rehydrating), my buddy invited me to do some spear fishing. I jumped in, and after a little instruction, I followed him to a beautiful coral outcropping, chased down a nice sized mangrove snapper, and speared it on my first shot. Beginners luck, coupled with good coaching from my friend.
That night, we ate a meal of speared hogfish and snapper at 2 Cents restaurant, and looked forward to the next few days of fishing, sailing, eating, and drinking.