Season after season, anglers from around the country vie for prime time fishing slots in the heart of the historically recognized “optimal period” of May and June. The first truly tropical months of the year can be excellent, and are certainly inflamed with tarpon fever. But after the craziness and crowds clear, the fishing, true catching, becomes fiery hot during my 3 favorite months of the year, July, August and September. Save for maniacle lobster mobsters, the Keys empties of people. Many spots can go days or weeks or more without human predation. Yes, the threat of thunderstorms, low pressure or worse begins to loom larger. But the pending weather can also trigger a sense of urgency, especially in the sensitive big three, the bonefish, tarpon and permit.
During one of the warmest days of this summer, Kal Blumberg and I form fitted into just such a tight window. I met Kal at his home on Coupon Bight. Due to the location of a large embedded thunderhead, we were forced to travel further down to the Sugarloaf area.
Our first pre-dawn stop yielded only very scattered rolling tarpon. Kal was able to come tight and land one after his pinfish was inhaled and the bright yellow cork vanished from sight. With the now anvilled storm to our East, we were able to fit in another tarpon spot, figuring to cash in on the cloud delayed sunrise. Baby tarpon cavorted through schools of small pilchards in a 100 yard stretch of a small channel, but they were initially somewhat reserved about drilling our throbbing pinfish. We cut the tails off our baits, and that seemed to help; 8 silver kings bought into it, and Kal was able to boat 2 more.
By 8:30 a.m., the storm had significantly dissipated, the water had slicked off, and some great visibility was now available. Using live shrimp, Kal picked off 6 bonefish in just under 90 minutes! These small groups of bones were post-storm ravenous, and more than eager to pose and smile for pictures.
With 3 tarpon and 6 bonefish by 10 o’clock, Kal was hoping for a shot at his first ever triple slam. Blumberg, a Mirage 17 owner, has caught numerous slams, and even several double slams. His last double was well timed, during the first day of the first of the Redbone Trilogy events at the Key West based S.L.A.M. He followed that performance up with a slam on Day Two, on his way to winning that tournament, and the 2004 Series.
There was certainly no competitive tension on this outing, and plenty of time left for the triple Kal was hoping for, but scattered wads of cotton ball-like cumulous had already begun to thicken and gain vertical profile in the steamy 90 degree heat.
The first permit saw us first. He popped on to some broken white bottom ahead and paddled straight away, just a few feet outside of casting range. We followed for over one hundred yards when suddenly, the ‘mit decided to take a 45 degree turn to the left toward deep water. Kal fired a long Hail Mary, and the line came tight! The 18 pound fish ate on the run and was in the net in 10 minutes. Slam number one was secured.
Only a minute later, a not so distant rumble reminded us that the local atmosphere was becoming more dense. There was another slowly ambling permit only 50 feet off the bow. Kal’s crab landed and was immediately crunched. Ten minutes later, we had another 18 pound permit whipped, and slam #2 completed.
We had to quickly evacuate, or directly deal with unwanted voltage. About 8 miles later, we shut down and poled a “last chance” flat only a mile from the ramp. A dark, mature electrical mass of pure hell was on the move, aimed, of course, right at us.
We had less than 50 yards to pole on the bank when Kal pointed out a small mud on some dark grass. Above that mud and 10 inches in the air was a very familiar black spike. It submerged, but not fast enough to keep Kal from getting a bearing and fire off a shot. The next thing we saw was a shuddering, splashing fin…….right on top of the bait! Once again, after a 10 minute struggle, a third permit was at boatside. We fled, loaded up the boat with seconds to spare, but Kal had secured his first triple slam ever, and it was barely noon!