Shallowtails! The pursuit of the grey ghost and tarpon in the shadow of the Magic City
By Jason Paez
@TwinFlyFishingDaddy on Instagram
In the film 180 degrees South, the owner of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, is quoted saying, “It isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong.” He is totally right, however, as I sat on the back of the 2006 17’ 9 Dolphin Supper Skiff Pro, going what felt like an easy 45mph, across Florida’s Biscayne Bay through a down pour of heavy rain, and the cracking of lightening that was way too close for comfort, I thought maybe it isn’t really an adventure until your figuring out how to get the hell out of it!
I decided that giving saltwater fly fishing a try for the first time would be a good idea this summer. I am still not sure why I waited until late summer but it just was the way it worked out. I learned soon enough that the weather can be a bit unpredictable in Miami during the late summer. I had been dying to try fly fishing on saltwater flats for years so we booked a trip to take the family down to Miami. The great thing about South Florida is there is plenty of opportunity to go fishing year-round. It seems like you really can’t go wrong any time of year in Florida because there are so many species both salt and freshwater to pursue. I only had a few days on trying go for Peacock bass in the canals or try my hand at fishing from the beach for Snook or the ultimate day of fishing which was spending a day on the flats. I chose to focus most of my efforts for this trip on getting the chance to fish the flats of Biscayne Bay.
A quick google search will overwhelm you with a myriad of charters that can take you out for half-day, full-day, or multiple days. My suggestion after this trip is to go during the prime season of the particular fish you want to pursue and book a minimum of one full-day. If time and money allows I would recommend that you definitely book a multiple 2-3 day charter to improve your odds because sight fishing the flats or glades takes time and patience. When choosing a guide the biggest tip I have learned so far is; go with the guy that is friendly, patient, and guides clients just about every day of the week. This way you know you won’t feel pressured to be a pro overnight and that the guide knows the ins and outs of the water you’re headed out to.
I linked up with Miami, Florida Native Guide Captain Raul Montoro. He has over 20 years of professional experience fishing the waters of Biscayne Bay, Everglades, and the Florida Keys. He is a big surfer too which gave us plenty to talk about besides fishing while stalking the flats. Capt. Raul was super patient and coached me throughout the day to improve my casting for salt water. Based on what I experienced I would suggest practicing a double haul that is 70 ft. and accurate. Capt. Raul specializes in angling for Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon, and Shark. The guy is super passionate and works hard to get you on some tailing fish. Check out his website at www.shallowtails.com for more information.
It was the morning of my charter and I hardly slept because I was so pumped. Just when I was starting to wake up to get ready, BOOM! I looked out my hotel window and the entire sky was black and the rain was really coming down. There goes my shot at fishing the flats I thought. It was almost instantly that I got a text from Capt. Raul saying, “Hey man everything is blown out and we probably won’t be able to go out today but I will keep an eye on the radar.” I went back to sleep and started thinking of a backup plan which included going to fish the canals near my uncle’s house for Peacock bass.
It was a couple hours later when Capt. Raul gave me a call and asked how fast I could get to the marina because the tide would be right for a few hours and we could try to go after some Bonefish and baby Tarpon. I left right away! Once we put the skiff in the water and headed out into the Biscayne Bay it was truly beautiful. I have been deep sea fishing quite a few times and the two styles of fishing just don’t compare. When you are fly fishing the flats everything seems to slow down and you take a lot more in. To the north you can see all the high rise condos and office buildings of Miami Beach. To the south you see the start of the Florida Keys and random industrial infrastructure. It isn’t the Bahamas but it was a pretty cool location. When we started pushing the skiff through the flats I spotted several species of sharks and rays, including a large lemon shark. Capt. Raul taught me to cast on top of the rays as a way to catch Bonefish and Permits that are known for trailing the rays for food scraps.
Early on we hunted for some baby tarpon but didn’t have any success, they seemed to be hiding in the depths of the backcountry creeks due to the heat. I had a very close opportunity to hook a good size barracuda but I missed the set probably because I wasn’t stripping the fly fast enough to keep his interest. Then we stalked several bonefish that always seemed to stay just out of range or were headed the wrong direction to be able to cast effectively.
For several hours my feet baked on the front of the skiff as I strained my eyes looking for the “Grey Ghost” aka Bonefish. At this point we had gone to the far side of a mangrove island that faced the open ocean and the infamous Atlantic Gulf Stream known for its Sailfish and other pelagic game species. What we didn’t realize was a pretty nasty storm brewed over the mainland and was soon going to cut us off from getting home. The radar popped off a warning so we started heading back. Then the thunder and lightning started! It was almost all around us and seriously came out of nowhere. We took shelter at a ranger station located on a mangrove island. We tied to the small dock and sat there hoping to wait out the storm with some unwanted friends below. It took me a moment, but I swear I have a sixth sense for detecting the presence of sharks ever since I spent a winter surfing in Australia, where they are super common in the surf lineup. I saw a pretty good sized bull shark that started circling around the skiff and every now and then his little buddy came swimming through as well. The whole scenario was becoming more than I had bargained for!
So I am stuck tied to a dock on an island, sharks are in the water below, mosquitos are everywhere and there are literally two storms cutting us off from getting back. We analyzed the radar so we could get home and made the call to shoot the gap between the two storms that would last about 10 minutes which meant we needed to haul ass. I soon discovered Capt. Raul can drive a skiff like a boss! We flew across the bay making a beeline for the marina. With our Buff masks over our faces and holding on for dear life we shot that boat like a hockey puck across the bay. I seriously would have loved to have filmed the race home with my go-pro but didn’t want to risk holding anything resembling a lightning rod. Even though the ride was hairy, we made it back safe and soaking wet!
In the end I didn’t catch a single fish that day but that’s why they call it fishing. Capt. Raul was super nice and due to the weather gave me a very fair discount plus I could tell he was bummed we didn’t get me on a fish. I would go back in a heartbeat except next time I think I will try to pick the right time of year for better weather. The next chapter is unwritten on my pursuit of the “Grey Ghost,” but you can bet I will be wrangling up the Urban Anglers USA crew and calling Capt. Raul to give it another shot!
Big thanks to the experts at Trouts Fly Fishing in Denver for helping select gear for the trip and giving tips and advice on going on a salt water fishing trip.
Gear used on the trip:
Scott Tidal 10wt. – Permit and Baby Tarpon
GLoomis 8wt. – Bonefish
Hatch Reels / Waterworks-Lamson Reels / and few other random setups provided by guide services
Rio Products Lines, Leaders, and Tippet materials
Other gear from Patagonia Fly Fishing Clothing, BuffUSA protective wear, FishpondUSA equipment, Yeti Coolers, and Umpqua Feather Merchants flies.
Extra Tip: You can carry on flies or if you don’t want the hassle of TSA check them on.