I had the pleasure of fishing in my first ever Tarpon Tournament this past June. In fact, it’s one of Islamorada’s first classic tournaments designed for women, by women. The Ladies Tarpon Tournament has a rich history in the beginnings of women creeping into a male-dominated sport. The tournament began in 1977 with a group of women in the Florida Keys wanting their own version of the Gold Cup and Hawley. Charter members wanted the tournament to be prestigious and fun.
After a couple of years in the early 2000’s of less than impressive turn-outs that eventually lead to the tournament taking a hiatus; fishing legend Heidi Nute (above) took matters into her own hands and brought this tournament back to life. We all want to be a little more like Heidi. If you want to know why look at her score sheet, talk to her, or watch her master all things fly fishing on season 2 of Silver Kings.
This is the first fishing tournament I have ever entered and for a girl from Colorado, the competition was real. There is something so cool happening on this little island of Islamorada. Women are fishing; women are fishing a lot. They are making it a large part of their lives. They are good too. It’s so cool to see. I mean check out this group of ladies; all geared up, ready to fish, and ready to talk about fishing. This was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had!
The first day of the 3 day tournament was super exciting. Up before the sun, at the world famous Loreli dock, we waited for our heat to hear the blow horn. Jeremy Fisher was my guide and his brand new boat tore out of the bay like a bat out of hell. My favorite part was listening to Stick Figure jam on the sound system as the sun came up. It was a moment that is hard to describe.
Eventually, I had to put a rod in hand and get to work. Jeremy suggested that I use his rod because he was worried about the 3 piece coming apart if we were to fight a big tarpon. It was an element I never considered, but, “When in Rome”! The picture Below is one of the only ones I took of Jeremy, because, you know, fishing. He has laser-eyes. It’s downright impressive how he can tune into “funny water” and know exactly whether or not it’s a shark or silver king almost immediately. I recommend Jeremy to anyone who wants to be put onto fish. He was the most professional and successful guide I have ever fished with. It’s cool to be around that caliber of a guide, and it definitely leads to a fun-ass time on the water.
I kept telling myself not to have expectations and to relax when the fish appear. I also kept running through clock positions in my mind, because it’s just not the way I see things when I guide back home in Colorado. 2 o’clock to your right, 5 o’clock turn, don’t cast at 12 o’clock, 9 o’clock left. I don’t know what other anglers have running through their mind. I waould tell myself to be like Heidi. I would imagine leading the fish, not stepping on the line, and strip-setting.Ugh! Strip-setting is my BIGGEST weakness. There was a point where I considered swimming home after losing 4-5 fish to PAINFUL trout setting techniques. Strip set= keep your rod tip down. Trout set= lift your rod tip up.
One thing you can not control is the weather, and we were downright blessed with amazing conditions. Day one I released 2 fish (see the scoreboard below). Released fish means that you get the leader through the first guide on the rod. Then you attempt to back out and fight the fish for a catch. It feels incredible to get a release then follow that with a crushing blow when you lose the fish. It’s such a weird game we play, hook a fish, reel it in, touch it, let it go. Cuss a lot (sorry Grammie). Laugh a lot. I love every second of it.
A release is worth 100 and a catch is worth 300. There is a minimum size limit to prevent fishing for baby tarpon. Note Heidi crushing competition right out of the gate. #belikeheidi
Day 3 was my best and worst day.Early in the morning, I ended up sticking one for my one and only catch. I did a blind-ish cast which is probably why I wasn’t able to trout set the tarpon. Every muscle was shaking as I talked to the tarpon and tried to wear it out. Jeremy’s favorite word is either reel or bow, “REEL REEL REEL REEL! BOW! REEL REEL!” We were in a groove seeing fish, hooking fish, and losing fish. I mean, seriously, this was so fun and wildly disappointing all at once. I felt CRAZY! I was thrilled, happy, and super pissed every time I got a bite; which happened more than a few times that day.
Heidi Nute and Craig Brewer took an easy first place ( and she caught a permit.. no big deal #belikeheidi). Randee Ward and Jarod Raskob took second after a solid day 3. And Pia with guide Larry came into third. I lost the tie-breaker for third place because of the rule “last fish caught first rule”. It was a 30 min difference. I guess I have to go back next year now!
We ended up getting a prize for the high score on the third day. (below) I am proud of myself for being competitive and getting on the board. I am so proud of all the ladies that were involved too. There was some serious damage done out there! 34 silver kings in 3 days.