My fishing and guiding career has been blessed. I've met and fished with a lot of people that others would love to spend time with. I will always cherish the moments I got to speak and teach with Lefty Kreh, and only regret that we did not get to spend time on the water together. But, Flip Pallot and I have spent numerous days on the water together and until Covid-19 hit, it was something we did on a consistent basis. I cannot tell you how many days we have spent on the water together, but it has been a lot over the last 15 years. Still, nothing will ever keep me from remembering the first day we shared on a skiff.
A little history. I began fly fishing at the age of 15. I had been flats fishing since I was 9, when I got my first boat. In the original days, it was baitcasters and spoons or jigs. Redfish were the common target, but I loved snook and seatrout too. Back then it was nothing to go out, find a few schools of redfish, catch a couple from each school, and head in four hours later, having caught 15-20 redfish, a handful of trout, some snook and maybe a flounder. How I wish for those days again! Just before my 15th birthday, I was bored at home because it was raining and I couldn't fish. I started flipping through the channels and ran across a fishing show. In the show, a guy was fly fishing for redfish and it looked like a blast. I watched that show and took in all I could. The angler was Flip Pallot, someone I had never heard of, but would come to be someone I would watch or record every Saturday. The show left me excited and wanting to try fly fishing, so I mentioned it to my grandparents; I lived with them. Well, it so happens that my grandparents knew of a fly shop in Titusville, Florida and that day they took me down there.
I walked into the fly shop, the original Fly Fisherman, and met Frank and Liz Steele. My grandfather told them about the show and what I wanted to do. I was busy walking through the shop, staring at flies, tying materials, rods, reels, and assorted other items. Liz took me to the rods and they sold me my first fly rod and reel; St Croix graphite rod with a Pflueger Medalist reel. We selected few flies and Liz gave me a quick casting lesson outside. We headed home and I could not wait! I went straight to the dock and tried to imitate what she had shown me. It was ugly. Still, I kept at it and almost a year later I caught my first redfish on fly. I was hooked and have been ever since.
Fast forward almost 17 years and I became the manager of The Fly Fisherman. Frank and Liz had sold the store and the owner hired me when the manager left. By now, I was guiding and spending the majority of my time fly fishing and was considered one of the better fly guides and angler in the area. When I began managing the shop, it opened up a whole new world. I had an inside view to the fly fishing industry and began to meet people and learn things most never would. Then, fate would bring my mentor into the shop. On a Saturday, when no one else was in the shop (Saturday mornings were notoriously slow unless the weather was bad), Flip Pallot came in. He didn't stay long, just picking up a couple of essential items for a trip he was going on. We spoke, just the usual greetings and off he went, riding his Harley back home. I recognized him, but didn't want to be a pain in the butt, asking him a thousand questions. A few weeks later, he returned. This time he needed a line rigged. He told be what he needed, left the reel and said he would be back a little later. Well, talk about being nervous. I had rigged hundreds of lines by this time, but never one for someone that was considered one of the inventors of saltwater fly fishing; and especially never one for someone that would be using it to film a television show. I rigged the line and awaited his return. He came back later and I went over the rigging. If you have ever witnessed Flip checking something out, you know how meticulous he is. He put his glasses on, peeled the line off and began inspecting the rigging. He appeared happy, reeled the line up and then checked the front. If you know Flip, you also know he isn't a fan of front loop-to-loop connections; which was a standard method of rigging in the shop for customers. So, he had me remove the loop and he affixed his own butt section while I watched. There was no correction on my rigging, he made sure to tell me that, just a personal preference and he went into why. I think he was a little surprised I wasn't offended and listened to his reasoning. In the end, I said I would have to take one of my lines and try it out, so I could see the difference on the water; yes, there is a difference and with few exceptions, I no longer use the loop-to-loop on my leader end.
Flip paid and then something caught his eye in the reel cabinet; that is the one thing I cannot remember what it was. But we began talking and I finally told him about how I go into fly fishing. I then told him that one day I would love to take him fishing, if he was interested. His response, "I can't go until tomorrow". I was a little dumbfounded, but we scheduled a fishing trip for Monday. I got home, told my wife and she laughed, saying I sounded like a little kid excited about Christmas.
Monday came and we met at the boat ramp. We ran to some different spots, chasing redfish and seatrout. I was determined to make sure Flip had a banner day. The morning was gorgeous, with perfect skies and not a breath of wind. I poled, called out some shots and watched one of fly fishing's legends feed fish. For me, it was a dream come true. I truly love poling a good fly angler and watching them cast and feed fish; it is one of the reasons I love guiding. I would rather watch and enjoy someone else as they catch fish, than catch them myself. It's hard to explain, but watching their excitement, seeing the joy on their face, and knowing that I was able to give them the opportunity is more satisfying to me than catching a fish. We ran the skiff to an afternoon spot, where I had seatrout in sand holes. They had been there for a while, but to this time I'd never had a caster good enough to make the cast. I was excited to have one this day, because the fish were big and extremely spooky. Then some words came out of Flip's mouth that I hadn't expected, "Let me pole the skiff while you fish".
Flip, as I would find out, was like me. He liked catching fish, but he loved/loves poling a skiff and giving others the opportunity to catch fish. Well, I grabbed my rod, got on the bow and pointed the direction we wanted to go. Flip got on the platform and started poling as I prepared my line for casting. Talk about being nervous. Now my mentor would be able to watch be cast, much like he had inspected the rigging I did. Understand, I had no difficulty casting 100 feet and turning a fly over, I had caught thousands of fish on fly, and I never got nervous at classes, shows or demonstrations. But here I was, on the bow of my boat, and my hands were shaking. I made a couple of casts to get my line ready and the nerves started calming down; my loops looked good and I was placing the fly where I wanted. We got up on the flat and just like I predicted, we found the trout. Every sand hole had a single, large trout in it. Flip called out fish after fish and I placed the fly in right position; for some reason they wouldn't eat. It was maddening for both of us. I switched flies, varied the retrieve, led fish, bopped them on the head and nothing was working. The fish would watch the fly swim by and not even move. They would motionless until we got close and then they would slowly swim away; flipping a middle fin at us as they did. We were just about to the end of the sand holes and we spotted a fish about 80 feet away. I made a cast, placing the fly 5 feet beyond the hole. I started stripping and the fly entered the sand hole. The fish never showed a reaction. I knew the fly was going to pass right in front of the fish's mouth, but knew she was just going to watch it slide by. The fly reached her mouth and without even moving her pectoral fins, she opened her mouth and inhaled the fly. I was shocked and didn't react at all. Just as quick as she inhaled it, she spit the fly back out and swam off. I was horrified at my lack of reaction. Then I hear, "Hmm, she wasn't big enough for you?" I look back and there was Flip, giving me the smile that he does when he is poking a joke at you. All I could muster was an apology, thinking this must be how my clients feel when they blow a shot. A few moments later a redfish appeared. Flip called it out and simply stated, "Remember, if he eats, set the hook." It wasn't an admonishment or a statement meant to make me feel bad; it was his way to say we have all done it and you gotta laugh about it and put it behind. The redfish ate and I didn't have to worry about setting the hook, he did it himself. We landed that fish, let it go and called it a day.
I wasn't sure he would want to fish with me again. That was over 15 years ago and as I stated, I've lost count of the time we've spent together. I've also lost count at the numbers of fish we have caught, the numbers we have messed up on, and the numbers of days we didn't catch a damn thing. But one thing still rings true: every day we spend on the water together is a blast, a memory etched in our minds, and a reminder of a friendship built around this sport we call fly fishing. I wouldn't trade it for the world!
Tight lines and screaming drags my friends!
- Captain John Tarr