Fishing the Marquesas by Kayak
Alan, a good fishing buddy of mine and myself had been hoping to do this trip since spring. Every time we set a date the winds would kick up and scuttle our plans. This time, however, the wind and rain forecast looked great and we decided to make the run. The Marquesas! The crown jewel of flats fishing in the Florida Keys. And we intended to catch our fish from our kayaks.
Alan has a 17’ skiff with a twin vee hull that we had loaded with kayaks and did some fishing around the Content Keys last year, so we were confident everything would fit securely for the 22 mile hop out to the Marquesas, and it would certainly need to be secure for the notorious crossing at Boca Grande Channel - 7 miles of open water and hard charging currents. Due to sheer excitement, I had trouble getting to sleep the night before our departure because I wanted to land the fish that had eluded me on my prior (first) trip to the Marquesas last year - the fabled, elusive, frustrating permit. But I finally did drift off for a few hours rest and found myself helping Alan load all of our gear into the skiff at 8am the next morning.
The trip out was uneventful. The crossing of Boca Grande Channel, while a bit lumpy, went off without a hitch, and we found ourselves motoring into Mooney Harbor around 10 am at low tide. The first few minutes of any arrival at the Marquesas is always special, and we soaked up all the visual beauty Mother Nature could throw at us. A plethora of bird life greeted us as we navigated the shallow waters and pondered where we might start our day of kayak fishing. We off-loaded our kayaks and got them ready to fish - Alan with his fly rods and me with my spinning gear and a small bucket of crabs. We had different agendas about where we wanted to look first and so, after agreeing on a protocol for checking in with each other via our marine radios, we headed out in separate directions.
I looked in what I considered good permit water. Alan was hunting for small tarpon. We looked, and looked, and looked. After almost 5 hours of focused fishing, we reconvened on a pretty flat on the west side of the islands and traded notes over a bottle of water. Nothing. Nada. No target species were around - at least not where we were looking. And the answer why was pretty obvious. The water was darn near boiling. All the recent sunny weather had heated the water to an uncomfortable level for our hoped-for targets, permit and tarpon. Our options seemed few. The tide was now high so we couldn’t hope for any cooling effect with a fresh tide. And we were both withering in the mid afternoon steam bath. We decided to take a long lunch break, find a place to anchor the boat for the night, and then hope our fortunes might change during the pre-sunset hours when the water would be moving again. We found a nice spot to drop anchor that was close to a beach with some much needed shade.
We also found three Cuban refugee boats that are so common out here in the summer. It really was idyllic and we waded to shore with our lunch and cameras in hand. A tuna sandwich and iced tea never tasted so good! And the irony of us, out here with Alan’s sturdy, well-powered fiberglass skiff, great fishing gear, plenty of cold drinks and good food, juxtaposed against the flimsy, rotting hulls of the Cuban homemade craft was inescapable. If you’ve never seen a Cuban refugee vessel, I can tell you it is quite sobering, and generates a lot of deep questions in one’s mind.
Having refreshed ourselves a bit, we shoved off in our yaks to look for fish, and just a few paddle strokes from the beach, I couldn’t believe what I saw. About 100 feet in front of me, a large black tail popped up. I stood up for a better view. There he was, a large permit feeding with reckless abandon in a small patch of turtle grass that was encircled by a large area of white sand. I watched him as he made short forays into the grass to suck up tasty morsels while throwing his big, black tail into the air. And here I am in a perfect position - up current, with the sun over my shoulder. It doesn’t get any better than this! I drifted down a bit closer and tossed a crab in front and to the side of the fish and he gobbled it up. “FISH ON!!”, I hollered to Alan back on the beach. After a long, hot day of no fish, we were both startled back into our angling posture and I was hooked up to my first Marquesas permit!
The next two hours of fishing were unreal. Slick calm water. Free jumping tarpon. Tailing permit. Rolling tarpon. Bait flying out of the water in sheets of silver. Shot after shot at feeding fish. Alan jumped three tarpon on fly, landing one. I landed that first permit, and a second permit an hour later, as well as jumping a 70 pound tarpon right as the sun hit the horizon. So we both got what we came for. And a lot more. I wouldn’t expect any less from such a magical place.
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