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, let alone get deposits for a trip two years out. Well, the boys made sure we kept the excitement going! I have never seen so many topics and chatter via text 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 weekly live video and pics of his epic adventures in the Monterey Bay, crabbing, trophy rock fishing, 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 jealous with his Private Jet photos with rockstars 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 with everyone at their local airport on a plane ready to go to Texas for a flight together into 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 another 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 champagne. And when there’s a long layover – beers!
We all eventually landed in Key West, 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 to scout things out.
After a long night of catching up with the crew and a healthy long sleep, we woke to no agenda for our first day, Saturday. Breakfast at The Breakfast Club was great, big portions and inexpensive. With full bellies, some of the crew headed back to the house to chill and others went exploring.
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 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 tackle ready for a sunset fishing session.
With the warm sand at our feet, a cold beer at our side and the lines freshly lying in the water, we were ready to see the water come alive. Bobbio struck first, within minutes of his first cast he landed 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 live music.
Sunday was here and our first charter was waiting at the docs for a full day of fishing. We split into two boats , Team 1 consisted of Ian, Steve, Olsee, Wy and Seddy going after shark and Team 2 boasted of Bobbio, Jof, Brough and Zucc, who headed for sport fish. Both boats left the doc with dreams of landing a once in a lifetime fish in Key West. Smiles and bets were plentiful as we headed out with dreams of making sport fishing history.
Key West provided great weather and smooth water for our first day of catching fish. Team 1’s lead angler, Seddy showed his team mates how land a shark and Team 2’s Bobbio matched Seddy’s Shark catch, while the rest of Team 1 brought home dinner. No sport fish, but enough yellow fin for two nights of dinner. Back at the docks and after cleaning the plunders a short bike ride was made for Mellows Cafe for a cold one, they promptly turned our catch into a dinner of delight. Left overs were brought home for day two dinner via Wy and Bobbio cooking the crew some amazing dinners.
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 have in their life. The night ended honoring our new Mate, Ian Mackenzie for 2022.
Monday and Tuesday saw most of the crew 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 an afternoon boat charter for tarpon. With the two teams in their boats we left the docs to hunt for the elusive Tarpon. It was not long after leaving the marina the first sighting of tarpon rolling was had. Heart rates jumped, everyone was itching to throw a line in the water….the captain maneuvered the boats into position and lines began to fly in the air. Then BAM, we were right in the middle of the largest rolling tarpon school we have ever seen. It was like being the guy on Saturday morning ESPN (or Brough at Pyramid Lake), just magical. You could see the bucket list dream coming to life as our live bait slapped 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 were skunked, but on beautiful boats, watching God’s wonders all arounds us for four hours with my boys, 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 where tarpon run from the guy cleaning our fish the first day. 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 had never 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. The reel sung for a moment, then…. yep, I lost him, rookie move and that was okay, because for about an hour and half we had more hits and Tarpon on than ever thought I would. With smiles from ear to ear and stories to bring home we wrapped up the morning and rode to breakfast to meet the rest of the crew.
Thursday came too quick, only one full day before we head back to our daily lives. We cruised the island on our bikes and scooters, checking out every place we could to throw lines or take a dip in the water.
We ended up on a sea wall in a tourist area where two young kids had lines in the water. It was the same spot where Bobbio and I had hooked up the other morning. As we considered where to cast, one kid’s rod took off, sliding across the cement (he had left it untended on the cement).
The kid sprinted to the rod, barely reaching it in time and it quickly bent almost completely over, at the edge of the wall, he nearly fell in, when out of the water jumps a massive tarpon. It was easily 6 feet and pushing 300 pounds. With a tight line, the beast launched 10′ in the air. Both kids, our crew and the whole shoreline of people were yelling in unison. 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 – the tarpon came off the line. It was beautiful, the sun was setting and we settled on witnessing a 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.
Upon safe travels to our homes, the crew took our usual, blessed memories of being lucky enough to have a group of friends who make the effort to get together every year.
To my comrades, thank you for a great trip and your friendship!