May 18, 2016
It’s the fourth day of my annual Florida Keys fishing expedition, and I am itching to go further afield from my fish camp on Big Pine Key. Years ago I fished down near Key West with guide Luke Kelly where we connected with some tarpon in an area called the Shark Channel. I’m hoping for a repeat as I plot my route and hit the hay early so I can be on the water at first light.
Next morning I’m trundling down the Overseas Highway before sunrise, joining the morning rush into Key West. I am keeping sharp eye out for the put-in for this trip, the Shark Key boat ramp at Mile Marker 11, about 30 minutes south of Big Pine Key. Distracted by the sight of several boats out on the water, I naturally whiz by the ramp that is on the other side of the highway. The signage for this ramp is minimal, so take slow. I execute a u-turn and pull into the long narrow drive that leads to the ramp, load up the yak, and park my SUV on the other side of the road, heeding the no parking signs around the ramp.
I scope out the tarpon boats and don’t see any action, so I head east and sidle up towards the bridge as the tide starts falling…and fast. I cast a big tarpon plug behind the bridge pilings, hoping some bruisers are skulking in the depths, but after 15 minutes, come up empty. So I buck the swift current and head towards the east side of O’Hara Key, which looks extremely fishy. But looks prove to be deceiving–I only pick up a couple of baby barracuda.
I spot a cluster of islets further east and turn the kayak that way, again pedaling against the swift current. There’s a nice gutter around the first islet, so I fish it carefully with a tarpon plug, then the old reliable Mirrolure Heavydine 18 with its shiny sides that flash in the water. I’m grateful for the pedal kayak, which allows me to hold myself in position to cast by pedaling slowly into the current. I pitch a good cast up against the islet in the deeper water and something explodes on the plug. A long torpedo shape blasts off, peeling line off my reel and dragging the kayak behind!