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Islamorada Fishing Trip Report ? June 20-21

I have never fished inshore, but have spent many days offshore chasing billfish, tuna, dorado, etc. After having seen inshore fishing on TV many times and talking to other anglers that love redfish, trout, tarpon and the like, I decided it was time to broaden my fishing horizons and try an inshore trip. After visiting the Florida Keys in January with my family, I booked a trip to Islamorada for June 20-21 out of Bud N Mary?s marina. The target was tarpon and if possible maybe a bonefish or whatever else might pop up for us.

I?d made a phone call to Bud N Marys last winter and a gentleman named Richard took the call. I explained that I was a little bit over the top in my obsession with fishing and I said I was looking for a guide who might be a good match. I explained that I?d never chased tarpon before. Richard said he had a guy who was ?hardcore? and that I?d be very happy with him. Richard passed along the name of his recommended tarpon guide and gave me his home number.

I called Vic Gaspeny and when he returned my call, we talked about tarpon fishing in the spring/summer. I told Vic I?d never caught a tarpon, or even tried. He told me he?d been fishing tarpon for nearly 40 years and recently had been on a streak of catching swordfish on 40+ straight trips and that he?d caught nearly 100 swords. I said that put him in a pretty small group of anglers, or at least that is what I would expect. Anyway, Vic said, ?Let me look at some charts I have, and hold on for a second.? He gathered some materials and said he was checking out the tides and moon phase and calibrating those with some other information he had in hand. He suggested two potential trip windows ? one in May and the other June 20-21. He explained why these two times were likely to be particularly good, but I really didn?t understand ? something about tides, and feeding patterns. The May dates would not work, but I was open in mid-June, so I picked those dates and Vic wrote me into his calendar. Vic was super nice on the phone, very understated and unassuming. He explained that he only fished one trip per day due to his bad back and that he suggested early morning. He suggested that I fish with another guide in the evening to maximize my chances for the tarpon, and he gave me Ken Cohan?s name and number and I booked a trip for the evening of June 20 with Ken.

Sometime in Mid-April, a client of mine who knew that I was intense about fishing sent me an article from the Tampa newspaper about daytime swordfishing. When I received the article, I looked at the picture of two guys holding a big sword with equally big smiles on their faces ? one of the anglers was Vic Gaspeny and the story explained that Vic and Richard Stancyzk (owner of Bud N Marys) had pioneered daytime swordfishing. I quickly went through my fishing magazines and found the Sport Fishing article on daytime swords that I?d read months ago and sure enough there were similar pictures of Vic and Richard. So, now I knew who Vic and Richard were and that I was in for a treat.

Fast forward to mid-June and I called Vic to finalize plans for our trip. I explained to him that I?d learned that he was one of the guys who cracked the daytime swordfishing code and he was humble to a fault about this accomplishment. Vic said we ought to leave early to get the tarpon and I said ?what time?? He said, ?I don?t want to scare you.? I said that I?d left as early as 2 a.m. in Mexico to get the big tuna, and I was game for whatever he thought was best. He said ?okay, see you at 3 a.m. on June 20th.? We were set.

I flew into Miami on June 19th and made my way to Islamorada in about 1 hour and 45 minutes. I had reserved the house boat at Bud N Marys and when I got there, I went into the store and Richard Stancyzk checked me in and when I said I was fishing with Vic, he said ?you are going to really enjoy this? and ?the weather just broke, you are going to get the tarpon ? I?m always right about this kind of thing.? I mentioned that he had suggested Vic originally when I?d called many months ago. I told Richard my background and he said he used to be in a similar line of work. I got the keys to the houseboat and went and checked it out.


Out the backdoor is the Atlantic ocean and the front faces the charter boats in the marina. For a saltwater fishing junkie, this was a very cool place to stay.


I went and got some drinks and breakfast food (I was meeting Vic at 3 a.m.) and cracked a cold Corona on the houseboat. Before long, Richard came by and asked if I was doing anything right now. I said ?no? and he asked if I?d like to see some pictures of the swordfish that he and Vic had caught ? ?Yep, that sounds great,? I blurted out like a little kid. We went to Richard?s office on the marina with his friend Alan whom Richard had introduced me to. Alan said ?you?ll love fishing with Vic.? That was pretty much what I heard from everyone.

We went to Richard?s office in the marina, and Richard sat me down in his chair in his office with a big three ring binder and explained to me the various photos therein. Pictures of swordfish jumping, pictures of 300+ pound swordfish on the deck, swordfish hanging ? the whole nine yards. Wow! There were pictures on the wall of giant bluefin, the daytime swordfishing article from Sport Fishing, pictures of Richard and Vic with a 14 pound bonefish that Vic caught (Richard was the captain) that was the then-current world record on the fly. Really impressive. What can I say, very cool. Richard said he was going daytime swordfishing tomorrow (June 20) and that maybe he?d see me that afternoon at the dock with some big swords laying on the deck. He explained that he?d be captaining the boat because he son (the usual captain) was away. Richard also explained that the daytime swordfishing had gotten slower the last few months. He wished me luck with the tarpon and said goodbye. This trip was off to a great start.




June 20

I rolled out of bed at 2:30 a.m., got showered, had come coffee and a breakfast bar and walked down the dock to the flats boat dock house at Bud N Mary?s and Vic was standing there waiting. I walked up and shook his hand. He said, ?let?s go.? No messing around. We climbed on Vic?s Parker flats boat and took off for our destination. It had rained hard the prior day and there was a lot of grass and debris in the water. Vic said that might make fishing tough. We ran about 5 miles to the spot he had in mind and the boat ride under the moon was beautiful. We ran through a canal and on either side were surrounded by mangroves. Vic was shining a spotlight in front of us to make sure we didn?t hit something. When he did that, it looked like the boat was floating on air above a canyon ? can?t describe it any other way. Incredible visual.

We got to our fishing spot and started fishing. We didn?t get anything in the first 15 minutes. We could hear the tarpon feeding around us and they were really smashing baits. Vic decided to try another approach, and we were hooked up within 30 seconds. The tarpon took off under the bridge piling and Vic fired up the engines and we gave chase in the moonlight. The tarpon was ripping the drag ?ZZZZZZZZZZ? and was cutting under and around the bridge. This is great fun and having never fished tarpon, I was having a blast. We chased this fish for a while and Vic was able, through clever boat handling, to encourage the tarpon to head out into the open water. This was a good sized fish and we?d hooked it on light tackle, so we really had to keep on with the fish for a long time before it rolled up next to the boat so we could properly remove the hook. There were numerous drag burning runs during the fight and I learned that these tarpon are tough. Apparently it is important to prevent them from getting an easy gulp of air during the fight because this rejuvenates them. Let?s just say I was not real good at stopping this fish from rejuvenating itself. By the time all was said and done, it was nearly two hours before we released the fish and Vic put the fish at 100 pounds. What a great way to get introduced to tarpon fishing.
Vic doesn?t mess around; we re rigged and went back to fishing immediately. We hooked another tarpon in about 45 seconds and ended up jumping it off in about a minute. Still got a few jumps and plenty of screaming drag out of it. Again, all under the bright moonlight on relatively flat seas. Just perfect.

Again, re-rigged and back to fishing. We hooked up in 30 seconds and this tarpon went bezerk jumping around the bridge pilings and running under the bridge ? Vic gave chase as the drag screamed ?ZZZZZ? and the fish jumped under the bridge in the moonlight. Vic directed me to pull on the fish and certain way and he said, ?I hope he doesn?t swim under those posts.? The tarpon headed right under a set of bridge posts (four of them) and Vic said, ?thumb the spool and break him off, we can?t get him off of those posts.? I did so and Vic said, ?Well, you got ?four-posted?.? Still a lot of fun to hook these fish even when you get ?four-posted.?

Back to fishing again quickly. There was some light starting to rise in the east and Vic said it might be tough to get another bite. This was a recurring theme from Vic ? ?conditions were tough, might not get another shot.? Less than a minute and we hooked up again. Once again, this tarpon went crazy screaming 100 yards of line off the reel ?ZZZZZZZZZ? as soon as it was hooked. We gave chase and again this fish went under the bridge. Vic was masterful with the boat and we got the tarpon into open water after a few close calls. This chasing jumping tarpon in the moonlight under bridges and around electric poles is a riot. I highly recommend it. This tarpon was smaller than the first and we were able to control it a little better (I think I probably was doing a better job than I did the first time). Vic put it at 70 pounds and after about 20 minutes, we got the fish boat side for the quick release.

It was time to pull the plug on this morning?s trip and we stowed the gear and headed for Bud N Marys. I couldn?t believe the action we?d had. During the trip, Vic had told me a little about his background ? that he?d caught more than 7,000 tarpon over the years, that he?d logged many of those catches and analyzed the data. He?s very modest, but it was pretty clear that this guy is very methodical, meticulous and scientific about his fishing. He analyzes the conditions, techniques and fine-tunes his methods and been doing this for 30+ years, and from my observations, has been doing so very very successfully. I am sure these character traits are behind his figuring out, with Richard, how to catch swords in the daytime. Vic told me about some of his sword catches. I asked how long it took him to get a 300-pound sword and he said he caught 91 swords before he got one over 300. Those big swords are freakish.

We got back to the marina at about 7 a.m. as other guys were heading out. Vic said ?see you at 3 tomorrow.? I said yes and made my way back to the houseboat. I took a nap and filled the day messing around.

At 4 p.m., I met Ken Cohan and we headed out for the evening tarpon trip. I?d mentioned going for bonefish with Ken and he asked me before we headed out if that is what I wanted to do. I said that if the bonefish were not on, and the tarpon thing was the ticket, let?s go for tarpon. He said, ?we?ll start out on the tarpon then.? We climbed in Ken?s boat and headed out about ¼ mile in front of Bud N Mary?s. Ken staked us out and we started fishing. We had light winds, bright sunshine, maybe 90 degrees -- beautiful afternoon. We saw a few tarpon swim by but they would not hit our baits. Ken said if we didn?t hook up in five minutes, we?d try another spot. About then, we got a bite one of the rods in the holder and Ken shouted that he had a take. I grabbed the rod and the drag screamed. The fish took off and we had the hook up. Again, it was screaming drags and jumps as the tarpon took off like a rocket. We chased the fish around for about 30 minutes and Ken said it was a good-sized fish. He grabbed the leader a few times before we finally were able to roll the fish over. Ken put the fish a little over 100 pounds and we released it cleanly.

Back to our staked out spot and back to fishing. We saw a few more tarpon swim under our baits, but they wouldn?t bite. One we didn?t see though exploded on the crab under the cork and I yelled, ?look at that!? The reel screamed and I grabbed the rod and had the hook up. This tarpon took off to the south, then changed directions and headed north making a couple of great jumps in the afternoon sun ? screaming drags ?ZZZZZZ.? Awesome.

Ken fired up the boat and we started chasing the fish north. The line headed back west toward Bud N Mary?s and seemed headed straight for a channel marker. As we neared the channel marker, Ken said ?I think he?s got us around the post.? Sure enough, the line was around the channel marker. Neither of us could figure out how the tarpon had turned west so quickly and then swam in a circle around this post. Anyway, we went to work trying to clear the line, because it was clear the fish was still on and taking drag. Ken backed around the post a couple times in different directions and finally we got free ? unbelievable. We got after this tarpon and ran it down fairly rapidly. This fish was about 90 pounds and we got the release. We were 2 for 2 and off to a great start.



Ken asked if I wanted to run a little ways offshore and try for a permit on a wreck that was not too far in the distance. He said that they spawn there and might still be around. I said sure, let?s go for it. We ran out there and it was beautiful conditions. We tried drifting over the wreck with crabs and looked for permit on top, but no luck (after 45 minutes). Ken suggested that we run back inshore and try for a bonefish. I said that sounded good and off we went.


We came up on a flat and Ken spotted some bones tailing right away. He shut off the motor and poled us into position. He directed me to make a cast and I did ? but off the mark a fair ways (shameful cast actually). The bonefish continued to tail, but no take. I blew that shot. We followed these same fish and Ken said I should cast past them if I could. I gave it a shot and threw the shrimp right on top of them and spooked them ? two blown chances. Ken did his job perfectly, but I didn?t do mine. That was a last good chance and we headed back to the marina as the sun set. Great afternoon of fishing and Ken, like Vic, was outstanding. Another two tarpon released, giving me four releases for the day. Incredible. I thanked Ken when we got back to the marina and he told me about options for permit in the Gulf at different times of the year. I thanked him and said I?d be back again to fish with him soon.

As I walked back to the houseboat, I saw that the ?B n M? (an offshore charter boat captained by Richard Stanczyk today) was back and it had four swordfish flags flying. They?d caught four swords during the day. Richard had put his clients on four swords; the biggest of which Vic later told me was just under 150 pounds.

June 21:

I was again up at 2:30 a.m. and met Vic at 3. He was waiting in his boat and we took off immediately for the same spot as yesterday. Another beautiful morning with the moon out and shining brightly.

When we got to the spot, Vic said conditions were tough (he says this frequently). We started fishing and didn?t get a bite for fifteen minutes. He repositioned us and we could hear a few tarpon feeding nearby ? not nearly as many as yesterday. Vic again noted that due to the lack of wind this morning and the slick conditions, it would be tough to get a bite.

After another few minutes, we hooked up and this fish didn?t go under the bridge but headed into the gulf on a couple of real burner runs. It jumped about four times ? nice fish that looked to be in the 100 lb. class, and on the final jump, the line broke. I don?t know what I did wrong, but no matter. We went back to fishing and it was not more than a few minutes before we were hooked up again. This fish went under the bridges ? jumping in the moonlight, drags screaming with Vic directing me ?pull left,? ?pull right,? ?pull left, he?ll swim away from the post if you do.? We got the fish into open water and released it in about 20 minutes. It was about 60 pounds. Great fish.

Back to fishing and we had to work for a while before we hooked another one. Same drill it headed right for the bridge and jumped right under the half moon arch of one of the pilings and the chase was on ?ZZZZ,? ?pull right,? ?he?s heading for the four posts.? Great fun. We got the fish in open water and released it after 15 minutes ? a 40 pound tarpon. Back to fishing and we hooked another one after 20 minutes and this one made four tremendous jumps, on the four throwing the hook. I know I did something wrong, but for 15 seconds or so, it sure was fun.

We went back to fishing and changed techniques. Vic said we?d probably get one more shot before it was all over. Sure enough, we did and I totally farmed it. I mean it was like I?d never caught a bluegill before in my life the way I reacted to the bite. Vic scolded me a little and I felt like a dunce. If you want to play 3 on 3 with Larry Bird on your team and you miss a layup, you gotta expect to hear about it a little. I have been down this road before with other kinds of fishing ? the first few trips I make a bunch of mistakes and lose several fish, but eventually I get a little better and it feels good when the mistakes decline. It didn?t feel too good to screw up that bite though, especially after watching Vic work so hard to get everything just right ? which he did. I was embarrassed, but we stowed the gear and made the run back to the marina with another two tarpon released, two jumped off and one solid hook up ?farmed? by yours truly.

On the run in, Vic talked about fishing out of Islamorada and Bud N Marys. He pointed out that there are not many places where you can catch a couple tarpon one day and catch swordfish the next day. I think he?s right. He also said that if he had landed the first tarpon yesterday more quickly, we probably would have caught four or five more tarpon yesterday, given the way they fish were feeding.

Back at the dock, I thanked Vic and said I hoped we?d fish together again. I reflected back on my initial phone conversation with him ? he?d picked the days based on some data he?s compiled over the years and said that he thought June 20 and 21 would be good for the tarpon. I?d say he was right. For the trip, I released 6 tarpon (in less than 48 hours) and jumped off another 4 or 5 fish. The released fish were estimated at 40, 65, 70, 90, 100 and just over 100 pounds. I am told by a friend who has chased tarpon a fair bit that 6 tarpon releases in 48 hours is pretty amazing fishing. If I were a better angler, I?d have released 9 tarpon instead of 6. One of the things that was so great about this trip, compared to blue water fishing, is the fact that we spent much of the trip fishing rather than running 60 miles each way to the fish. At Bud N Marys, the tarpon fishing grounds are just a short run from the dock.

I travel around a fair bit fishing and usually the first time or two I go somewhere (e.g., Cabo, Puerto Vallarta), I get jerked around and have some minor or major fiasco with the fishing. It typically takes me a few trips to find the right place to stay, the right captains to fish with, etc. This was my first time fishing the Keys and the trip went off without a hitch and I got the fish. In fact, it was phenomenal. Dealing with the people at Bud N Marys was great; they are super folks who kept checking to make sure my trip was going well. It was a treat to meet Richard Stancyzk, the owner of Bud N Marys. He originally suggested that I fish with Vic and that turned out incredible. Vic recommended Ken and that likewise was terrific. I obviously recommend all of these folks highly.

If you want to call Vic Gaspeny directly for a tarpon trip, his number is (305) 852-4278. You can reach Ken Cohan directly at (305) 664-8747. To arrange accommodations at Bud N Marys, you can call 1-800-742-7945 (or Bud N' Mary's Florida Keys Fishing Marina in Islamorada) I know that they can set you up with a daytime sword trip if you want to give that a go.

Thanks to Vic and Ken for amazing fishing and to Richard for setting me up with such a great trip. I?ll be back to chase the tarpon, bonefish and permit with Vic and Ken (hopefully more skillfully next time). I am also going to try to give the daytime swordfishing thing a go, maybe after fishing tarpon for a day or two. After seeing pictures of those broadbills, I have to catch one. And I can see how a guy could get obsessed with trying to catch one of those 300-pound class swords. I knew a guy who got obsessed with catching a 300+ pound yellowfin tuna ? it wasn?t pretty.
 

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Good report. I've also fished out of Bud n Mary's for bonefish. I fished with a guide named George who put us on bonefish. My friend came back with a tropy mount! I didn't have mine mounted but pictures will do lol.

They run a great operation and have repeat customers for sure.

I think the slam down there is bonefish, permit, tarpon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The Bud N Marys people were great. A friend who is from Florida and has a place in the panhandle now said that I caught more tarpon on this trip that he has in his life.

I think the slam is tarpon, permit and bonefish. When we ran offshore that afternoon after releasing two tarpon, Ken said if we got a permit, we would HAVE to go for the bonefish.
 

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Yups, did you see all the baby tarpon hiding under the docks at Bud N Mary's. Pretty cool site eh? must have been 3 to 4 foot long but skinny guys. My friend's parents lived in Islamorada and used to fish with George from Bud N Mary's all the time. Wish I can make it down again. Great weather and you could wade out so far and still be only waist deep.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
There were dozens of tarpon under the B N Marys dock. when they cleaned the offshore catch, the tarpon went nuts boiling on the scraps and some big nurse sharks came in as well. Lot of life around the dock there and just away from the marina as well.
 
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