I grew up in a culture where fishing was everything. Where the Tarpon swarmed every season and the Permit and Bonefish were plentiful year round. Where rust was your biggest enemy, and the ocean your best friend. Where judgement was based on how many tournaments you won, and character was based on how many days you spent on the water. I grew up in Key West.
My father was a fishing guide, and everyday after school I would sit on our dock, overlooking our canal with a spinning rod in hand, practicing casting over and over again until he returned from work. On days when the fishing was good, he would unload his client and finish business. Then he would take me out on the water, right to where the fish were. You can say I got pretty spoiled. Countless nights were spent out on the water until dark, and our excuse for being late for dinner was that we had a hundred pound tarpon on the line that we just had to land.
When the fishing wasn’t good, or maybe there wasn’t enough time to go out, we would play a game. He called it the ring game. It was pretty simple; I would cast a jig out in our canal, making a splash that creates a ring. Immediately afterwards, he would cast his jig into that ring. We started playing this game when I was around 3 years old, and as I got more and more practice, our roles switched, and I was the one placing my jig in his ring.
At the tender age of 5, my dad decided that it was time that I caught a permit for myself. Ever since I was born, he would take me out on the water to watch, or he would hook them and I would reel them in. But now it was my turn. And when the weather was finally right, he took me to one of my favorite places in the world: the Marquesas Islands.
The conditions were picture perfect for permit fishing. Sun at our back, a light breeze and no clouds. But more importantly, the fish were there, and it was happening. I was seeing the fish, casting to the fish, and hooking them on my own, fighting them on my own and landing them. A 5-year-old kid doing what most strive to do just once in their life.
Some of my greatest memories have been out on the water with my dad. We would go out every year for the annual worm hatch, where the tarpon would swarm in schools of hundreds, and even a kid could catch as many tarpon as he could physically fight.
When I made my choice for college, I wanted to get out west as soon as possible, so I got a job as a Wrangler in the Park at Roosevelt Lodge, guiding horseback rides through the backcountry. Working in the park was a mind-blowing experience. Being so close to so many great trout rivers and streams, I was like a kid in a candy store. On my off days, me and my friends would take our horses on a half day ride, going up mountains and racing down dirt roads. We’d come back to the corrals, turn our horses out and jump in the truck to go fish the Yellowstone.
Fishing outside of the park was different than inside the park. I actually like it better for some reason. I think it might be because working in the park ruined it for me in a way. When you have to deal with guests complaining about their butt and knees hurting all day, it can get old, but it was definitely worth it. There was a week of no responsibility during the time in between moving in the dorms and school starting where we were fishing every day. During this time is when my friend Connor caught this monster of a brown on the East Gallatin.