I first met Capt. Derek Rust at the SWC Christmas party this past December. I knew about him through some of the SWC guys and heard nothing but great things about the guy. So meeting and talking to him was pretty exciting, not like a teenage girl meeting Justin Bieber, but it may have been close. Little did I know my wife already had conversations with Derek in previous weeks about getting a charter with him for my bday/Christmas present. That’s where the real story begins.
After christmas day and receiving my 2 day charter from my wife, mom, step dad and mother in law, all I could think about was the trip. When am I going to go, what do I want to target, and what questions do I ask Derek. You see, this trip wasn’t just about catching fish on fly, it was about learning as much as I could in 2 days from an experienced Captain. After ironing out the details, March 5th and 6th were the days. On the hopeful menu were tarpon and permit.
Started my 6 hour journey south on March 4th, just day dreaming about fishing the waters of the Keys. Derek was nice enough to put me up for the duration of my fishing charter. After arriving at his house we discussed in further detail the weather, expectations, and our game plan. I was pumped to say the least.
Day 1, getting up at 630am was never this easy. We loaded up Derek’s Hells Bay Marquesa and headed to Hawks Cay. It was blowing about 15mph, and for a not so experienced fly caster such as myself, the wind didn’t do me any favors. We got on fish, spotting them from yards away. I presented the fly to a few, with no cooperation from the fish. Towards the end of the day I was really blaming myself, Derek did his job and put me on fish, I felt like I just failed on my end. Getting closer and closer to the boat ramp as the day was winding down, we had one last spot to fish. Sure enough, the winds died down a bit and there was a 100lb tarpon sitting and waiting. I got set up and threw the fly just past his face. “Strip, Strip, STRIP! SET!” said Derek, and just like that, I missed the set. I was bummed on one hand, on the other I was excited, because I just fed a 100lb Tarpon. We headed back to the ramp to get ready for day 2.
Day 2, loaded up and headed towards a different ramp this time. Winds were much calmer and I felt more optimistic. As the day went on, much like the previous day, Derek was giving me tips and knowledge, things I never even heard of or thought of. What to expect, what to look for, what to do in this scenario and that scenario. 3 hours or so went by and we didn’t see a single fish. I started to think “I’m going home without catching a fish.” I mean that’s fly fishing and I was ok with that outcome, but I really did want to catch a fish. Around 11am we came across this flat. Derek got on the platform and started polling. Not even 5 minutes after getting there I hear “Ok 11 o’clock, good size Tarpon about 40ft.” I spot the fish he’s talking about, first fish we saw all day. I get set and fire my fly just past his head. “Strip, Strip, STRIP! SET! HE ATE IT!!” GAME ON. This fish inhaled the fly, whipped his head and bolted the other way. Next thing I know all my fly line is gone and we are deep into the back. “DIG THE HOOK, DIG THE HOOK!” So I did, just hanging on. At this point the fish has taken about 200yds of backing. Derek got behind the wheel and put the boat in gear. As we were chasing after this fish, the Tarpon made a huge leap, so far from the boat I wasn’t even sure it was my fish. “Uh, that fish is way bigger than I thought” said Derek. As we were chasing this fish down he was doing his best to shake the hook, including zig zagging in and out of crab traps. “Uh, Derek, he wrapped the line around that crab trap!” Just like that, Derek got the line untangled from the trap and the fight continued. “He’s going around another trap” again, untangled the line and proceeded. I’m thinking to myself “There’s no way I’m landing this fish, no one has this much luck with landing any type of fish, much less a tarpon”.
Finally the fish wore down enough for use to catch some kind of ground on him. At this point my back and my hands were cramping, badly. And just like that the tip of the rod touches the leader, “Thats a catch, anything else after this is a bonus” said Derek.
We finally got the fish to the boat, holding on for dear life to get some photos and to return the fish unharmed. That’s what we did, all 140lbs of Tarpon next to the boat. I was shaking like a mad man with adrenaline and nerves.
“That was some real Hemingway type stuff right there buddy” said Derek. Still can’t believe we caught and landed that fish. Mouth like a robot Derek hung on as I put the boat in gear to revive the fish, and there she went. I just caught the fish of my lifetime.
After a bro hug and some water we decided to go look for Permit. It didn’t take long to find some and boy did we. Derek polled his ass off pushing the boat this way and that way to get it in the right spot for a shot at these Permit. My knees were knocking and I was probably more nervous throwing my fly at Permit than I was catching the Tarpon. Catching a Permit on fly is the holy grail. After a bunch of casts and waiting, I had 3 follows. Which in my book is a win, my first time Permit fishing and I almost fooled a few, that’s incredible by my standards.
After realizing the Permit just weren’t going to bite we went off to one last Tarpon spot. Got to the spot, set up and just like that, small, medium, and big rollers all over. After a few shots, boom! We’re on again, this time with a much smaller of more acrobatic fish. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 jumps, this fish put on a show.
At this point the day was at its end with the sun was all but gone. We headed back to the ramp and all I could think about was the incredibly amazing trip I just had. I learned more in 2 days than I have in the entire time I’ve been fly fishing. Derek Rust is an incredibly talented captain and he is full of knowledge. I came down to just learn as much as I could and I did that. I was also shown the best fishing trip of my life! If you are looking to fish the Keys don’t hesitate to call Derek Rust, he’ll show you a great time on the water . http://rustyflycharters.com/