October 18, 2016
It recently occurred to me that I'm coming up on a major milestone as a fly fisherman. I'm pretty sure that next season, it will be 50 years since my father gave me a short casting lesson and put me on an unremembered stream in New York, a couple years before he moved us out West for good. And this got me to thinking, what is the all time hottest day I've ever had fly fishing? I'm not talking largest single lifetime fish, or good times with my best buddies. I'm talking about a biggest day of fast action with a fly rod, here.
Since I'm outing myself publicly, I will hereby commit to complete honesty. I can count on one hand the number of swear-to-god 50 fish days I've personally had trout fishing solo, and have guided more than a few trips that have racked up those kinds of digits, but typically with parties of multiple anglers. Then there was the time I had a 100 pound hour in a now depopulated lake in southern Colorado that was infested with 9 to 11 pound common carp. I've had some pretty amazing days bonefishing in the Caribbean too, but my memory might be colored by the overall experience . Hmmm.
On reflection, I think I'm going to have to say my all-time most smokin' session came on me unexpectedly, and with a species of fish that I had never encountered before. Skipjack tuna, otherwise known under the various other titles of black skipjack, Mexican little tunny, barrilete, barrilete negro and Euthynnus lineatus is the hardest fighting, appropriately sized fly rod fish I've ever encountered. I've since found that Baja-based guide services agree.
"This is the strongest of all the tunas and probably the most underrated Pacific sport fish. Serious tuna anglers believe that black skippies would be "un-landable" if they grew to the size of the yellowfin. The black skippie will average 8- to 15-pounds with the all-tackle world record weighing over 20-pounds."
One October about 20 years ago, I had decided it would be a good idea to head south to check out the end of the season in the Sea of Cortez. Having had a couple trips to the Caribbean under my belt at this point, I figured it was time to check out another ocean. Driving over the border below Tucson in a dubious Volkswagen van, I aimed for the port city of Guaymas and the nearby tourist town of San Carlos, five hours south of Nogales. While it had been starting to snow back home in the mountains, It was still 110 degrees in Hermosillo, and I was glad to get to the coast.
I set up shop in a cheap RV park in San Carlos next to what would turn out to be an obnoxious late night disco, and immediately saw fish sign after scanning the bay with binoculars. About a half mile offshore was a small volcanic island, and the birds were going completely berserk all around it. I could make out frothing water just under the birds even at the distance I was observing from. I went and reserved a sea kayak for the next morning.
The next day, I paddled out on calm water towards the island, where I could see birds circling already. I let a good sized streamer pattern dangle in the water thirty feet behind me as I worked my way towards the island, and this proved to almost be a critical mistake, as I had a very hard pull that almost jerked the unattended 8-wieght overboard. I reeled up and made my way toward my destination with determination. On arriving at the island, I beached the kayak, and immediately waded into a melee the likes of which I'd never seen. Birds were dive bombing water erupting with small sardines that were being pursued on the surface by hundreds of large predator fish. The island was surrounded by a shallow apron of sharp lava under water that was about knee deep and fifty feet wide, where it would drop off suddenly to an unknown depth. It appeared that the sardines were being herded by the predators up against the underwater wall, where they would have no choice but to go straight up, and the predators were decimating them on the surface.
I waded to the edge of the apron, stepped up to bat, and threw my #2 stainless Bunny Zonker into the middle of the action. Nothing. I cast to the edges of the boil and got a couple small bumps, but no hookup. At this point, some of the stunned Sardines were washing up against my legs, and I saw they were considerably smaller in size than what I had been presenting. I switched flies to a #8 Olive Clouser that I have used for Bones, and the results were immediate. I was unprepared.
The first fish had the whole fly line out so fast I'm surprised it didn't tear the guides off the rod when the knot on the bottom end came through. It then tore off more than 100 yards of backing with my reel handle spinning so hard I couldn't get near it, having to palm the rim and scorching my hand in the process. A brutal 10 minute battle of tug-o-war got the thing landed, and I was amazed to handle a 15-pound skipjack tuna with a beautifully striped iridescent body, hard as an unripe watermelon. I quickly released it and immediately was into another dozen carbon copies of the fish over the course of the next two hours, with a couple smaller jack crevalle (locally known as "toro") in the mix as well. When I finally was too exhausted to continue–even though the boil was still going strong at various points all around the tiny island–I made my way back to shore, with the afternoon wind having whipped up a small chop that made paddling three times as hard as it was in the morning. I made landfall completely blown, and flopped on the gravel beach for a half hour before I could get my act together enough to return the rental boat.
My hottest day came out of nowhere. What's yours?