Never Give Up
by Robby Lacey
Every time I make my way through Key Largo headed south on the overseas highway, my mind is consumed by thoughts of silver fish in beautiful turquoise water. I think about all of the history that this chain of islands is known for, and all of the legendary anglers that have made their mark throughout. This time was no exception, I could hardly wait to get passed Duck Key where I knew my mark would be made the next day. I pulled up to Capt. Derek Rust’s house, where he and his friends had just returned from a long day on the water. They were still in the process of washing the boat with bags under their eyes and exhausted movement. After catching up and cleaning off, I was told that they had been tarpon fishing for the last five days, and the weather was not cooperating. This came as no surprise to me. Over the last eight years fishing up and down the Keys my mind had always been on one fish: a permit, and the weather has always had other ideas.
The next morning, I woke up on the couch to a beautiful sunrise. I saw no palm trees fluttering in the wind, and not a cloud in the sky. My first thought was that this is too good to be true, and surely it would get windy and cloudy later on in the day. We launched around 8 o’clock with high hopes and sunny skies. Upon our arrival to the first flat, we were greeted with the only visible cloud in the sky, encompassing the entire flat we were planning to fish. This cloud was a long and dark low cloud and provided minimal visibility into the water ahead. We agreed to wait it out and that surely this cloud would pass in no time. About 40 minutes later the cloud had finally broken up and we were ready to fish. Within what felt like seconds, I saw a silver flash out of the corner of my eye. Of course my guide, Derek, was already on the fish. He directed me to the fish and poled about 50 yards with the instruction to throw my shrimp up tide of the fish whenever I feel comfortable enough to make the cast. Naturally, on both of my first casts I came tight. Not with permit; instead I caught and carefully released a bar jack and a blue runner. Derek suggested I try a crab so I switched rods as he poled back to the school. Approaching the school, I realized that there were close to 300 permit around us. They were sticking their heads completely out of the water, picking off crabs and shrimp clinging to the matted grass floating in the tide. I quickly picked up on a group of fish 40 feet off of the bow and made a cast. I felt two slight taps and fell into a state of disbelief as I came tight on my first permit. The fight took about 10 minutes and I had to work hard to get the fish away from a log near the skiff. After landing it and taking some quick pictures, I released my first permit back to swim with the rest of the school. I was overwhelmed by the emotions that came to me.
It felt like a massive weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I have never experienced such a great feeling in all of my time fishing and it reminded me of the reason why I am addicted to this sport. At some point every single day for the last eight years I have taken time to think about permit, and dream of some day catching one. To land and release an eight-pound fish after so many years of unrewarded effort may seem superfluous to some, but I can honestly tell you that I have never been happier in my life.
Following catching my first permit, we decided to eat lunch and reflect a little bit. I was so happy that I really didn’t care about the rest of the day. I remember telling Derek that I could go back to the dock right now. I thought, there is no way this day can get any better, so why worry or care about what else we do. Sure enough Derek mentioned that there was a good bonefish flat not far from where we were eating our lunch. I happily agreed to go take a look and before I knew it I was back on the bow, but this time with a fly rod in hand. We had just begun to pole the flat and as I was stripping my fly line out when Derek spotted a group of bones headed right at us. I had a hard time picking up on the fish and getting a cast out in time. The fish turned off course as they got close to the skiff and ended up spooking. I was just excited to even see a bonefish at that point, but it was not long before the fish made their way back. The school had snuck up on us and was only about 20 feet from the skiff as I made a quick cast. Before I had to chance to strip the fly, I was already hooked into a solid bone. The fish made a long run and came back to the boat. I fought it quickly and hopped into the water to land him and take a quick picture.
When I hopped back on to the skiff Derek and I were both grinning ear to ear. We looked around for more fish, but didn’t find what we were looking for.
At this point it was about 3 o’clock, Derek told me calmly that there was a pretty good chance I will catch a tarpon before the day was over. I was so confident that I felt like I was ready for anything. I have been targeting juvenile tarpon on fly for about five years and I knew that my experience would surely help me. When we came off plane at our next spot I noticed heavy matted clumps of grass covering the first 20 feet or so of the shoreline. I looked up and saw cloud cover forming over us. I knew at that moment that the stars had aligned. I knew with lower light that these tarpon would come out of hiding and I would have a shot. Sure enough it only took a few minutes for a few fish to come out from under the grass clumps. I was finally presented with a good shot to a fish that was just inside a broken-up mat of grass. I made my cast and felt a slight resistance as I stripped. Initially I thought that my fly had been caught on some of the grass, but as I stripped again I knew I had one on. I set the hook and the fish lit up, leaping over the grass matt and into open water. I fought the fish carefully and within no time we landed it.
I can tell you looking back on it that I honestly did not believe what I had just done. A few hours ago I was ready to go home beaming with happiness and now I had just landed a grand slam. I knew at some point in my fishing career that I would cross this achievement off of my list, but I never thought that at 20 years old, I would have a grand slam to my name.
After some time to reflect and think about this day and what it meant to me, I can share a few things with you. The first is something that my guide Derek Rust has always told me after a day of bad weather and tough fishing. Derek always said that “One of these days, you’re going to get it right. You need a combination of so many things for this type of fishing to go your way, and one day you will see it happen.” I heard that so many times and I never believed it. I thought that I was cursed. There were a lot of times when I told myself that maybe this wasn’t meant to be, and that I should focus on targeting other fish. Thank God that I didn’t. The second thing I would like to mention is that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it. I stated earlier that for eight years I thought about permit every single day. This is completely true. This fish took over my mind and it was like an addiction to me. With enough hard work and enough time on the water, I made it happen. Finally, I would like to share some advice. Growing up in central Ohio, I loved bass fishing and looked up to Mike Iaconelli like a hero. One thing I took away from everything he did was to never give up. On TV, in tournaments, and in his book, Iaconelli preached to never give up. Those words always stuck with me like a song that I couldn’t get out of my head. Every single time I thought about permit, I thought of those words. These words can inspire anyone and I encourage you to start thinking of these three words any time you are in doubt.