Last summer 10-year-old Piper and her father PJ seemingly pulled off the impossible, Piper caught a Florida Keys Grand Slam at 10 years of age! Piper and her Father won a casting lesson with Nathan Linville from the Mill House Podcast and decided to get a day on the water with Simon Becker after the lesson. From there Piper went on to catch a permit, bonefish, and a tarpon in one day, in the Florida Keys! This is not at all an easy task for anyone who has fished down in the Keys, the fish are smart, selective, and stubborn at times. We caught up with Piper to learn more about her day on the water and what went into the success, check out the full interview below.
Flylords: Can you give us a background about where you were fishing and with whom?
Piper: We were fishing in August down in Key West with Captain Simon Becker. We were on a family trip before my sister left for college.
Flylords: How did you prepare to catch a grand slam? Did you practice at all?
Piper: Yes, I did practice! I practiced in the front yard with my dad and I went to my dad’s work where there’s a pond to catch bluegill and bass. I was fishing a lot before the trip with my dad on his boat for redfish and tripletail. The day before I went to catch my Grand Slam I had a casting lesson with Nathaniel Linville from the Angling Company in Key West. We practiced in a park working on my distance and my backcast. I won the casting lesson and some cool stuff from the Mill House Podcast on Christmas last year!
Flylords: Which fish did you catch first? Can you walk us through how the day unfolded?
I caught my permit first! We woke up pretty early to take a cab to meet Simon. When we met him he said, “no matter what happens today we’re going to have fun!”. At the first spot we went we were looking for tarpon but we got rained on! I hid from the rain in Simon’s stripping basket. The next spot we went to I saw one tarpon but it spooked. Our guide saw fish pushing water and said they were permit. We idled to get ahead of them and started poling. Finally, we got close enough to them that I could see them and make a cast. I caught it on my first cast!
We went to another spot to look for tarpon and bonefish but didn’t see any. We took a break to eat snacks and Simon taught me what to do if a shark ever comes up while you’re fighting a fish. He taught me a lot that day! Then we went to another spot for bonefish and it got really cloudy. Simon said there were some bonefish at 11 o’clock and I casted but he said I was short. As I was stripping my fly it came tight and I said “I got one!”. It wasn’t the hardest fight I’ve ever had but it was still fun! That’s probably because I had just caught that big permit.
It was later in the day and my dad asked if we could go try and catch a tarpon. Simon said it was really hard because it was late in the day but he had a spot that he thought we could try. When we got to the spot we didn’t see any for a while. We got to a place where there was an area by the mangroves that we couldn’t get to but he said they were probably back there. He slapped the push pole on the water and said that makes them come out sometimes. A few seconds later some came out but they were spooked and swam away. While we were sitting there Simon said he saw some coming at us down the mangroves and told me to cast in front of the boat. I stripped the fly twice and a tarpon ate it. It jumped so many times! I got it all the way to the leader and the colors were very vivid and bright. Simon grabbed the leader and it came off at the boat.
Flylords: Can you talk us through the permit? Being an extremely hard fish to catch on the fly how did you catch it?
Piper: I have to keep Simon’s fly a secret but the fish were swimming high and I watched it eat the fly. It whirled around the fly several times and then ate it. I was nervous the whole time because my hook was barbless. I fought the fish for almost twenty minutes. It was the longest fight I’ve ever had with a fish!
Flylords: What went into the success of getting the grand slam?
Piper: We stayed determined and didn’t let things like the rain and messing up a cast get us down. I told my dad I wanted to catch a grand slam but he said it would be really hard for me to get a permit (he still hasn’t caught one). I stayed positive the whole time and Captain Simon was so nice and he wouldn’t yell at me when I made a mistake and get aggravated. I couldn’t have done it without Captain Simon Becker!
Flylords: What kind of gear were you using (size rod, line, flies)?
Piper: I used an older Orvis Helios 9′ 9wt that Captain Simon had to catch all of my fish. The permit was on Simon’s secret fly, the bonefish was on a small shrimp pattern, and the tarpon was on a purple toad.
Flylords: Any tips for other young anglers?
Piper: Kids can get upset really easy so when something goes wrong don’t get discouraged. There’s always more opportunities to come! Being out there and seeing the pretty water and the animals is the gift, catching fish is just a reward we get sometimes from being out there.
Flylords: What’s next for your fishing adventures? Any species you would like to catch?
Piper: I want to catch a BIG tarpon and a bumphead parrotfish!
Thanks so much to Piper and her Dad PJ for sharing her story, be sure to follow along with Piper’s adventures at @pjohansen920.