For would-be fly fishers trying to develop more confidence in their casting and fish-fighting abilities, the shallow waters of Flamingo in Everglades National Park might be the perfect training grounds right now.
With water temperatures that are not too warm and not too cold, early fall presents bountiful opportunities for sight-fishing, and catching and releasing sharks on fly rod.
The flats and channels out front of Flamingo hold numerous lemon, bull, blacktip and bonnethead sharks that are more than willing to snap up flies when lured by chumming and chunking.
Best weather conditions are gentle, easterly winds. However, IGFA world-record holder extraordinaire Marty Arostegui of Coral Gables managed to catch and release a lemon shark of more than 100 pounds on fly rod last week on a day of pre-frontal, west winds — which are the least favorable for fishing in Flamingo.
Arostegui and Gil Muratori of South Miami-Dade began the day on Muratori’s skiff drifting on the incoming tide in about 10 to 12 feet of water off East Cape Canal, with a butterflied bonito carcass hanging off the bow.
The fresh chum drew the attention of several small blacktips, one of which dashed up and tried to relieve the skiff of its bonito bow ornament. One shark came over and sniffed Arostegui’s beautifully-tied, red-and-white Deceiver fly, but declined to eat it.
The Deceiver, which looked a lot like a Zara Spook plug as it drifted just below the surface, was attached to an 11-inch section of 45-pound-test Steelon line, which was connected to a 20-pound tippet. Arostegui was wielding a 10-weight fly rod.
When the action died off East Cape, Arostegui and Muratori decided to relocate to Jimmy’s Lake, a trough in the middle of Snake Bight. They anchored the skiff using the push pole and deployed a fresh bonito carcass.
For a long time, nothing happened, so Muratori began cutting up small pieces of bonito and tossing them in the water.
Just as the tide started to slacken, the dorsal fins of several small sharks began to appear about 50 feet down-current from the boat. Then came a larger dorsal fin.
Arostegui cast the fly, and the shark began to rush it. Arostegui stripped it quickly away, but not too quickly that the shark couldn’t grab it. The quiet stillness was broken by the zzeeeee of the fly line and much of the backing zipping off the reel as the shark swam off with the fly in its jaws.
“We’ve got to go!” Arostegui told Muratori urgently.
Muratori disconnected the line attaching the push pole to the bow, and cranked up his outboard to chase the shark. It took several minutes before Arostegui could recover the backing and some of the fly line.
When the boat had closed to within about 20 feet of the shark — a lemon that looked to be somewhere north of 100 pounds — Arostegui saw that the fly was no longer hooked in its jaw.
“Many times, because the jaw is heavy-duty cartilage, the hook will grab in the jaw,” Arostegui explained calmly. “But when he shakes his head as he goes away, the fly went into the base of his pectoral fin.”
Arostegui continued fighting the shark until he was close enough to touch the tippet. Then he grabbed and broke it, and the shark swam away — still with the fly in its fin. But Arostegui said he had tied it with a degradable hook, so it wouldn’t be there long.
The two men didn’t hook any more sharks that day, but it didn’t bother Arostegui. He once caught the world’s largest shark on fly ever released alive — a 385-pound lemon — and the only swordfish on fly in U.S. waters.
Arostegui and Muratori resolved to try again on a day with non-westerly winds.