Tarpon tutor: Fishing with Captain Rick MurphyFrom the April 29, 2009 Issue
Reid Zoller applies pressure to a tarpon as Captain Rick Murphy looks on.
Tarpon fishing has been a passion of mine for years. I’ve been fortunate to photograph and observe some of the best fly anglers in the business, and while I’m capturing the action digitally, I’m also asking questions to learn how the best got that way. Last week I had the pleasure of fishing for tarpon with my friend Reid Zoller, of Bradenton, and Captain Rick Murphy, of Homestead. Zoller, the director of U.S. Operations for Loop Tackle, a Swedish fly tackle manufacturer, has been expanding the North American base of the internationally renowned company and had been invited to fish for a day with Murphy, a representative of the company.
Murphy is the host of three fishing shows: “Sportsman’s Adventures,” “Chevy Florida Fishing Report” and the new “Sportsman’s Adventures Tournament Series,” which began in 2008. Murphy studies fishing and takes it seriously. Some of his accomplishments include being part of Team of the Year in the Professional Redfish Tournament Series; winning three tournaments in less than a 12-month period; catching 60 redfish in the Red Bone Tournament Series – 48 of which were on fly; winning the Red Bone Series fishing fly only; and breaking the total points in prestigious Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament, resetting the point record to 7,801. While spending a day on the water with Murphy is an education for the determined fly angler, it is also extremely entertaining. For most of the day he had Zoller and I doubled over with laughter from his hilarious stories.
When Zoller invited me to fish for the day we quickly decided that we should stay a couple of nights and explore Biscayne Bay and possibly nearby Flamingo. I had never fished this area and was eager to explore the waters that are a link between Miami and the Upper Keys. We left Bradenton early one morning, arriving in Homestead in time to catch the incoming tide on Cesar’s Key Bank in Biscayne National Park. The Park is just a few miles east of Homestead and has a spacious ramp and numerous facilities.
Zoller had fished the area last summer and ran us across the bay to an ocean-side flat that Murphy had suggested. We tilted up the motor, and as soon as I was on the casting deck, we began to see rays and sharks, a good omen. Ten minutes later the first school of tarpon showed up, and during the next two hours we had shot after shot at small schools of tarpon. I had a few looks and a couple of refusals, but it was Zoller who put a tarpon in the air when he hooked a fish we estimated to be about 60 pounds. Unfortunately, the fish straightened out the hook on the first jump. While we hooked only one tarpon, we had numerous shots on what was the best day (weather wise) I’ve experienced all season. As the tide slacked, we moved to the inside to search for bonefish. We saw a few fish early in the tide, but our perfect weather began to deteriorate as a strong east wind buffeted the flat. It had been a long and rewarding day, so we headed back for a Mexican dinner in Homestead and to prepare for the next day’s fishing.
Murphy picked us up the next morning at the hotel and since tarpon fishing was hot on the Oceanside, he decided to fish near Tavernier in the upper Keys. We launched at Biscayne Park and ran over 45 miles through creeks and bays in Murphy’s new 21-foot Maverick Pathfinder at an eye watering 65 miles per hour. We made the trip in about forty five minutes, quicker than it would have taken us to drive the 57 miles from Flamingo to Tavernier.
Murphy set the boat up along the edge of an Oceanside flat, and Zoller had hardly stripped and stretched his fly line before a school of tarpon was spotted working towards us along the channel’s edge. When the lead fish was within casting distance, Zoller made a cast on a perfect line and had his fly inhaled on the second strip. The tarpon immediately blasted to the surface in an attempt to shake the fly before making a long run with several head-shaking jumps. After about five minutes of fighting, the tarpon spit the hook on a last acrobatic leap.
As is often the case, the first cast was the charm, and although we both got numerous shots that day, there were no more takers. If you fish for tarpon on the fly, you know that you can’t judge the quality of the day by the number of fish you catch. It wasn’t because we didn’t have the fly in the right place on the multiple opportunities we had, it’s just that kind of game.
What was impressive was the coaching we received from Murphy on presenting the fly and getting it in the tarpon’s zone. He took my understanding of how important it is to get the fly in just the right place to a new level. I’ve been using a clear sink tip line for years, and although my technique has improved steadily, I suddenly realized the importance of using a floating line with a leader that would allow me to more precisely track my fly. We’re talking inches here, and never more than a couple of feet, as a tarpon will occasionally break ranks to snatch a fly, but that’s by far the exception. Make it easy for the fish to eat the fly (right in its face) and your odds increase exponentially. Murphy has a gift for understanding and explaining the critical elements of fly fishing and showed us how to add lead wire to the fly. Yesterday I stripped all the line and backing from my 12-weight Loop reel. The sink tip line came off so I could replace it with a floating line. I’m guessing my day with Murphy will pay dividends this tarpon season. A day (or more) on the water with Murphy is highly recommended. He can be reached by calling 305-242-0069, or by e-mail at email@example.com.