It was a first in TGT history – a two-year wait for the next trip. Months of planning, payments and airline reservations all came to a screeching halt in the beginning of 2020, due to COVID-19.
Visions of Warm waters, Cold beer and hooking up a Tarpon in Key West was but a dream. I wasn’t sure how this group was going to handle a full year without an annual trip since 1984. Not only was there no trip, a 37-year-old tradition of absolutely, without question, going on a TGT just wasn’t going to happen.
With a year to kill, I wasn’t sure I could keep the excitement alive about heading to Key West, yet alone get deposits for a trip two years out that I already prepaid for. Well, the boys made sure we kept the excitement going! I have never seen so many topics via text and well, in depth sharing as I had during this past year. Brough, Olsee and Wy kept us pumped with their lake fishing pics of monster trout as seen on ESPN and Bobbio kept feeding the crew almost weekly live video and pics of his epic adventures in San Francisco and Monterey Bay, Crabbing, Trophy Rock Fish, limiting on every Salomon venture and chasing Blue Tuna. Not to be out done, Jof kept us all living vicariously with his Blue Bird Snow Skiing in the North. To cap it all off, Seddy kept us all jealous with his Private Jet photos with Rock Stars around the globe. Now that I think about it, Ian, Steve and I were the only ones working in 2020, suck it.
So let’s fast forward to April 2021, excitement is in the air and everyone is at their local airport on their plane ready to go and meet in Texas for a flight together to Key West. Then a group text from Jof “Sounds like a weather delay in Dallas so as of now I may not be taking off for two hours”. This started a domino effect for everyone with delays, changed flights, running like OJ through the airport and having the plane doors closed on you. So what do you do when you’re stuck on a plane not taking off for two hours? If you are in first class like Ian and Bobbio, you drink free alcohol, not any alcohol, Champagne. And when there’s a long layover, beers!
The final leg of the trip was on and the crew could not wait to get Key West. We landed, and after a pit stop we were off to the TGT home for the week.
The three-story home sat on the marina with a beautiful pool and plenty of space to relax and catch up. After a few beers and snacks Jof and Seddy decided to check out to Duval Street and it didn’t take long and the boys had already met a new friend.
After a long night of catching up with the crew and a healthy long sleep, no agenda Saturday was here. Breakfast at The Breakfast Club was great, big portions and inexpensive. With full bellies, some of the crew headed back to the home to chill and others went exploring.
After an hour walking around to get a lay of the land and it was obvious the nights come alive on Duval Street. Wy and Ian spent a few hours at the Ernest Hemingway Museum while Jof and Seddy nabbed a few Scooters to zip around the island. The rest of us found a few cruisers to rent for the week. Back at the house some took naps while others floated in the pool, watched a baseball game or got the tackle ready for a sunset fishing set.
With the warm sand at our feet, a cold beer at our side and the lines freshly lying in the water, we are ready to see the local excitement come alive. Bobbio strikes first within minutes of his first cast, landing a beautiful Permit worthy of his Trophy wall back home. The day came to an end with a sunset you would expect to see and we all headed to the Mellow Café for fish, beer and some local live music.
Sunday was here and our first charter was waiting at the docs for a full day of fishing. We broke into two boats , Team 1 consisted of Ian, Steve, Olsee, Wy and Seddy going after shark and Team 2 contained Bobbio, Jof, Brough and Zucc headed for sport fish and both boats left the doc with dreams of landing a once in a lifetime fish in Key West. Smiles and bets were plenty as we headed out with ideas of making sport fishing history.
Key West provided great weather and smooth water for a great day chasing fish. Team 1’s lead angler, Seddy showed his team mates how land a shark and Team 2’s Bobbio matched Seddys Shark catch, while the rest of Team 2 brought home dinner. No sport fish, but enough fish for two nights of dinner. Back at the docks and after cleaning the plunders a short bike ride was made for Mellows for a cold one before Mellows turned our catch into a dinner of delight. Left overs catch was brought home for day two dinner via Wy and Bobbio cooking us some amazing fresh fish.
With a full Sunday behind us it was time to start The Honored Mate Ritual. After a year of not being together it seemed like a good time to tap the brakes and remember those who are no longer with us and why this all started. Even as I write this memory, I get actual chills thinking about the history of TGT and what it brings to us as a group and to us as individuals. History, Tradition, Friendship and belonging to a ‘Family of Comrades’ that few are truly blessed to receive in one’s life. The night ended honoring our new Mate, Ian Mackenzie for 2022.
Monday and Tuesday the most of the crew spent exploring the shores with gear in hand and a back pack of cold beer. With the occasional sighting of Jof and Seddy shooting by on their scooters or a live video share of them swimming in the ocean. Bobbio, found a craigslist tackle sale going on and scored on some old gear to take back and Ian went on his own 25 epic bike ride journey around the whole island.
Wednesday started lazy with breakfast, naps and a little pool time before the afternoon and evening boat charter for Tarpon. With the Teams in their boats, the captain’s left the docs in hunt for the elusive Tarpon. It was not long after leaving the marina the first sighting of the Tarpon rolling begins. Heart rates jumping and itching to throw a line in the water, the captain is maneuvering the boat into position and bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz lines where flying in the air, the splash right in the middle of the largest rolling Tarpon we have ever seen. It was like being the guy on Saturday morning ESPN (or Brough at Pyramid Lake) we have been watching for two years, just magical. You could just see the bucket list dream coming to life as the live bait slaps the water.
Four hours of this magical chase brought both Teams back to the dock with nothing but stories of how huge, beautiful and difficult the Tarpon are catch. We may have got skunked but we got skunked on beautiful boats, watching God’s wonders all arounds us for four hours with my bros, priceless!
That night, Bobbio and I decide to get our tackle ready for a very early morning of chasing Tarpon from shore. You see, we heard of a place the Tarpon run from the guy cleaning our fish from the other day. Well, 4:30 a.m. rolls around and we are on our bikes riding to the old cruise ship docs. Sure enough, we see schools of Tarpon six feet from us rolling everywhere, I mean everywhere. Bobbio and I looked like we were getting ready for free candy as we start putting our gear together like two little kids who never have fished before.
Then silence, pure silence and time stood still as I our lines hit the water and we start reeling the lures. “I GOT A HIT” is all it took for me to hear from Bobbio to get the heart pumping even faster, then BAMM, my rod bends in half and seconds later I see my first Tarpon on and in the air. Yep, I lost him, rookie move and that was okay, because for about an hour and half we got more hits and Tarpon on then I thought I ever would. With smiles from ear to ear and stories to bring home we wrapped up the morning and rode are bikes to breakfast to meet the rest of the crew and head to the beach.
Thursday came too quick and only a day left before we head back to our daily lives. A relaxing day of cruising the island on our bikes and scooters checking out every place we could to throw our lines in the water or take a dip in the water.
A one point we ended up on a sea wall kind of in a tourist area with two young kids with lines in the water. These kids were also at the fish cleaning area our first day and the salty fisherman cleaning the fish told them to go to this spot. It was the spot! As we stood thinking where to cast our lines one of the kids line just took off sliding across the cement since he left it laying down.
The kid grabs the rod and it bends almost completely over the wall looking like he is going to fall in when out of the water jumps a Tarpon. This Tarpon was easily 6 feet in length and pushing 300 pounds and able to jump 10 feet in the air. Both kids, our crew and the whole shoreline of people yelled at the same time. It was like Jurassic Park coming to life, then again, the Tarpon launches out of the water throwing its head side-to-side, dragging the barefoot kid down the cement like a chapter out of Tom Sawyer. As quick as the excitement started it ended as the Tarpon came off the line. It was beautiful, the Sun was setting and we got to witness the perfect Key West sunset.
We grabbed the bikes and headed back to meet the rest of the gang and enjoy the evening. With bags packed, the bikes were back on the road for one last beer on Duval.
With safe travels home the crew took homes our usual, but blessed memories of being lucky enough to have a group of friends who take the effort to get together every year.
To my comrades, Thank you for a great trip and your Friendship