by Jeff Pierce ( Dr. Fish)
O. Mustad & Son (USA), Inc.
Location: Off Key West, Florida
Species and tackle: Permit caught on a crab fly tied on size 1 Mustad Signature C68SZ
If you’re a hard core angler, you have to adapt to all kinds of situations. There are the travel issues, making your way to locations to fish and film. Cancelled flights, lost bags, etc. Then of course there are a huge number of variable well out of your control. Poor weather. Downright awful weather. Adverse water conditions (drought, flood, bad tides). Fish turned off. It goes on and on. These are things you just have to deal with and try and make the best of the cards you are dealt. The difference between a good angler and a great angler is their ability to adapt to all the curve balls thrown at them. Sometimes the decisions made in trying to adapt fall flat and you struggle. Other times the planets align and you hit a homerun.
The first week of February I traveled to Key West to participate in the first annual Cuda Bowl. This tournament was the brain child to Mustad Prostaffer and good buddy Capt. Justin Rea. Justin was looking for a way to better promote the lower Keys to anglers during the winter months. When fishermen think of the Keys they typically think Tarpon, Bonefish, Permit. Well the region offers so much more than that and one fish in particular just isn’t given the respect it deserves. The Great Barracuda is a tremendous gamefish on light tackle in shallow water and during the winter months, the fishing is at its peak. The colder the better when it comes to chasing cudas in the skinny water. As waters cool from successive cold fronts, larger barracuda that patrol offshore reefs slide into the shallow water to sun themselves, warm up and feed on all the bait. This results in some spectacular shallow water sight-fishing for these larger fish, which can exceed 60 inches, with light tackle and fly gear. The strikes are often explosive and when hooked, the barracuda make high speed drag screaming runs and often jump multiple times. It really is something to see.
So Cuda Bowl 2011 was born and the dates were set for the Friday/Saturday prior to the Super Bowl. Typically this time of year it’s windy in the Keys and cold fronts roll through, dropping water temps. This can turn off the fishing for other flats fish but really fires up the cudas. If you fish a lot, you have to suffer through trips plagued by bad weather and tough fishing. As an avid angler, I push through those less than ideal trips in hopes the next trip will all come together. Well on this trip to Key West, we hit the jackpot! We had 5 straight days of light winds, very few clouds and temperatures 78-82°. With a strong cold front having moved through a few days earlier, the larger cudas were all over the flats and they were hungry. This was the best string of weather I have ever experienced in the Keys during the winter months and we could not have been luckier. It was a bit of a double-edged sword though. As the waters warmed from the mid-60s to the low to mid-70s the barracuda began to slide off the flats to deeper water BUT the tarpon and permit poured onto the flats mixing things up. This made it very hard to concentrate on chasing barracuda.
As the waters warmed there was quite a mix of fish on the flats and we enjoyed some incredible fishing around the Marquesas. We could not help but laugh at times because there were so many fish around we just didn’t know what to cast at. LG would be up on the casting platform with a fly rod rigged for barracuda. Justin would be slowing poling us along a flat and all three of us would be scanning the water for a target to throw at. When sight-fishing the clock visual is used. 12:00 is straight ahead, 6:00 is straight behind the boat, 3:00 is straight out to the right and so on. This way when a fish is spotted, the position can be called out using the clock position and a distance is given which helps the angler quickly zero in on the fish. So as the flats filled with fish, here is how things sounded at times. “Here we go! Big, big cuda at 11:30, 80 feet. LG would start his cast at the fish and then Justin would bark out, “oh man, grab the permit rod, nice permit 3:00, 70 feet. Just as I was handing off the fly rod set up for permit to LG I’d glance off and see 5 tarpon sliding toward us 50 feet out at 9:00. “Tarpon!, 9:30 coming in hot, take this rod. Cast, cast, CAST! OK, what’s that, sliding in behind us. Wow, huge sawfish! He’s got something on him. Quick, grab the tarpon rod with the bunny fly, that sawfish is covered up with cobia. Cobia!” We’d cast and hook up on a 30lb cobia and while fighting that we cast to a 130lb black tip shark and it explodes on a popper. “Double hooks up!”
This went on for 4 solid days. Fish everywhere you look. Cudas, tarpon, permit, some bonefish, tons of lemon and black tip sharks with some bull sharks mixed in plus cobia and jacks. It was impossible for us to focus. It was an epic few days and we caught fish until our arms hurt, both on the fly and light spinning. These are the days that make us work through all the real difficult days.
Cuda Bowl went off without a hitch. Fishing was great and all teams participating caught plenty of fish. Along with a lot of solid barracuda, we also caught cobia, lemon sharks, black tip sharks, bull sharks, tarpon and permit. You just cannot ask for more than that. Those that fished the event vowed to return for Cuda Bowl 2012.
On the last day of the tournament I managed to catch a permit on the fly. While that in itself is something to be proud of, this particular catch was just insane. Spend enough time on the water and you’ll see and experience some crazy stuff. This catch was one of those things we will never forget. Thank goodness we got the whole thing on film as folks never would have believed us when we told the story.
Check out the video clip I put together and you’ll see just what I’m talking about. The fish ate one of Justin’s incredible crab flies tied on the size 1 Mustad Signature C68SZ. This is a fantastic hook for tying flies for tarpon, permit, bonefish and many other species.