Key West, Day Two: Weighing the Wind
Already, at 7AM on Wednesday, the wind was blowing over 20 knots out of the east. We drove to an oceanside flat where fish being drawn in to several channel mouths might move our way. In the low early light, all we could do to be effective was drive the pushpole in and wait. Glenn had a few shots at passing fish, then at about 8:30 a pod of happy tarpon appeared to our left, out near some crab pots. I pulled the stake and we were able to get one shot before the wind — now 25 knots — made pursuit impossible. Fortunately one fish ate the fly as it was being stripped back through the school, reminding me that the wind might work in our favor on a day like today. As we turned the boat, another pod of fish was coming up inside of us and we jumped a fish out of that school as well. Soon more big blobs of fish appeared far down the flat. They were deep purple-brown in the morning sun and were moving very slowly.
When the wind is gusting over 25 knots, the best a poler can do is to keep the boat in position and keep it out of the fish as the caster does what they can with the casting direction. In this case, as we moved down to the fish I pointed the stern of the skiff at the fish and poled backwards, into the wind. This enabled Glenn to get three or four shots into each school before they bounced off the boat. Since the fish were very happy, our strategy worked, and for about two hours we were constantly into hungry fish that readily ate a yellow-orange-grizzly fly. Glenn was using a stripping basket, which was a sort of silly hood ornament in a wind like this (even if he threw the line into the basket, it just blew right out), so there were plenty of line management mishaps, but there were so many fish that we just laughed when things went awry.
Though there were still fish coming through at midday, I decided to run back east to the Toilet Bowl and pole the couple of miles of small flats there. Again we started to see strings of fish and Glenn started to connect almost right away. We saw most of the fish at the end of our pole, where another guide ran in and staked out in front of us, so we just ran back up the flat and did the pole over again to end the day. By 2PM the wind had not let up, and Glenn and I were both exhausted from chasing and casting to fish. Even though there were still fish all around us, we decided to save our strength.
The day had highlighted two lessons for windy-day fishing. One, the wind can be your friend. Even though we didn’t always have the best casting positions many of our eats came with flies being stripped across or even back through the fish as they moved off. The fish were coming much closer to the boat, and sticking around longer, than they would have on a calm day. And two, stripping baskets are fine up until the point at which the wind blows over 20 knots. Then they can become an impediment, especially if you are trained to strip line into a basket that you are standing next to. In a humping wind, better to throw line into the wide recess of the boat deck behind you, even if that means stepping down with one foot to the deck as you strip.