Eyes of an Eagle: Sight Fishing the Flats
Years ago, before moving to Florida, I used to fly here from wherever I was in the country to go saltwater fly fishing. I owned a commercial real estate company that took me all over our beautiful country. I was watching a saltwater flats fishing show which was new to TV up north. As a fly fisherman I just had to try that. I had been fly fishing since I was eleven or twelve when my Grandfather put an old copper fly rod in my hands in Northern Michigan. This was the stuff that legends were made of. Fly fishing the Keys or Tampa Bay. The magic land, the Holy Grail of fishing and now they were saltwater fly fishing? I had to be there.
As it were, my oldest daughter had moved to Florida so it was time for a visit. While I was there I went to a Tampa area fly shop, the World Class Outfitters, and walked in. I heard a voice coming from the back and soon a gentleman came out to greet me. I knew the face but could not place it. Then it dawned on me that this was one of the guides that I had seen on the show. I think it was the show when Capt. Cliff Martin had Mark Sosin of the Saltwater Journal aboard. We talked for awhile and struck up a friendship that has lasted through the years. I told Capt. Cliff that I was in town for only a few days and would love to try fly fishing the flats. We made arrangements to go the next day. What an experience! I wanted to do this so badly that nothing was going to stop me. Turns out I fell in love with it and it changed my life. What a thrill and an honor to be invited to fish with a legend and a master of the sport.
Time went by and I flew into Tampa every chance I got. Capt. Cliff could see my passion developing for the sport. I was like a dry sponge in the desert and his information was the water. I soaked up everything he said. Believe me when you fish with a master of saltwater fly fishing, there is a lot to soak up. Over the years and many hours of patient training, I learned. One day I told Capt. Cliff that I was going to sell my company, move to Florida, get my captain’s license and become a guide. I told him that I wanted him to train and teach me all that he could. Well that started a conversation that went on for hours. Once Capt. Cliff realized he could not talk me out of it, he agreed only if I promised not to set up shop in Tampa Bay. I quickly agreed. I continued to work with the master for a long time. It was amazing to me that over all of the time he rarely repeated himself. What a knowledge base of experience. The hardest thing to learn was seeing the fish in adverse conditions. Not just a choppy day on the flats because of the W, but on dead calm days when nothing was tailing. Capt. Cliff can see fish like you would not imagine. He would say “10 o’clock, 45 feet! Do you see them? It’s 6 big reds in the grass.” Or 1 o’clock, 75 feet! See em? See em? What do you mean you don’t see em?” He must have had out of body experiences and became an eagle soaring above to see some of the fish he would pick up. He would have me get up on the poling platform and look from there and of course I couldn’t ‘see em.’
I can’t tell you how many times the captain asked me if I was sure if I wanted to do this. Be the fish; See the fish he would say. Then it came to me one day. I thought about how the fish move or don’t move. I thought about what the eagle sees from the air at 100 feet and from 10 feet on a pass. All of a sudden I could ‘see em’! They were all over the place. We spent the next hours just polling around and spotting fish. I got to where I was spotting a few that the good captain had not yet gazed his eagle eyes upon. It was more exciting than catching fish. I then knew that I could do this and do it well and make my mentor proud.
It was a great day forever etched in my memory. It became a game that to this day, many years later, has not ended and has given me a great reward.
The other day my grandson asked ‘how did you see that fish? I found myself saying; ‘Be the fish, See the fish.’
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