Madness, Obsession, and the Hunt for the World-Record Tarpon

Madness, Obsession, and the Hunt for the World-Record Tarpon

In Lords of the Fly, Burke takes a deep-dive look into the world of tarpon fishing and the town famous for it. In the 40-plus years since Tom Evans, a New York City stockbroker, first caught a world-record fish in Homosassa, Fla., in 1977, he has returned to the area and landed six more record tarpons in the surrounding waters. His success made this small town the hub of saltwater flyfishing in the 1970s and ’80s, and attracted professional anglers, such as Stu Apte, Lefty Kreh, and Billy Pate, as well as fishing enthusiasts including writers Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane and landscape painter Russell Chatham. Burke wonderfully captures their stories as well as those of their unsung guides, detailing the alliances and rivalries. Enjoy this sneak peek. —The Editors

Tom Evans was one of the few regulars at Homosassa who was not from South Florida, and he was the sole Yankee (at the time, he lived in New York City). He was not a famous angler, as Apte, Williams, Pflueger, Lopez, and Pate were. He was also one of the few who had an actual nine-to-five job. He felt he was viewed as a latter-day carpetbagger, a bit like an outcast, even though he was allied with the Keys-based guide, Steve Huff. And yet, early on, he and Huff—the former collegiate nose tackle paired with the wiry guide—were the team to beat in Homosassa.

They were on the water, idling out of the Homosassa River, every morning at 5:30. Even when other guides and anglers were up earlier, they’d often wait for Huff to leave and follow him out, because he knew how to navigate the tricky river and its mouth. Evans and Huff were nearly always the last boat in, as well, tying up close to eight at night. “It seemed like we never saw the dock in the light of day,” says Evans.

Every day was an endurance test for both angler and guide. “It was an athletic event. We’d kill ourselves, torture ourselves,” says Evans. “Steve never wanted to go back in until we were dead. That made him happy.” They were both on their feet for around eleven hours a day. Huff learned the flat slowly and painstakingly, one plunk of the push pole at a time, pushing into the fifteen- to twenty-mile-per-hour winds that always seemed to arise in the afternoon off the Gulf. He would never start the engine if fish were around, even if he and Evans were leaving for the day. Instead, he’d pole out of the area, which sometimes added another forty-five minutes to the trip home. “The tarpon were lying around, doing their thing. This was their house. It was disrespectful to blow them out,” Huff says.

They stayed out on the water even in the worst of thunderstorms—”some horrible shit,” says Huff—dropping a few anchors, hitting the bilge pumps, and lying down in the bottom of the boat like Egyptian mummies as waves crashed over the bow. The lightning and the thunder would “scare the hell out of us,” says Evans. But then it would inevitably pass, and the sun would come out and the water would go slick, and the tarpon would start pouring in. Evans always waited for his graphite rod to stop humming from the leftover electricity in the air before he picked it up and started fishing again.

Evans concentrated only on the biggest fish he saw on the flat, the Rocquettas, as he called them. In a string of tarpon, the largest fish were usually found two to three places behind the lead fish, or maybe two or three spots from the back of the line. If the fish were in a daisy chain, he and Huff observed it for a bit and would “look for the fattest face,” says Evans. When that one was identified, Evans cast the fly toward the tail of the fish directly in front of it.

When he hooked a tarpon, Evans immediately fell into a trance of concentration, getting into the flow of the fish, reading its body language. If the fish was leaping or on a blistering run, he did nothing but hold on to the rod. But as soon as the tarpon began to slow down, Evans pounced, trying to “own the head,” as he called it. He never pulled without purpose. Everything was done to keep the fish off balance. “Every fish is different. But they all tell you what to do if you pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, they can easily ruin your day,” says Evans.

That’s because of the second, third, or fourth wind that a big tarpon can get during a fight if an angler relaxes. “If you’re resting, you’re losing,” Evans says. “If you had a fish on for two to three hours, you were wasting the day.” He once had a tarpon landed, exhausted by the side of the boat after a thirty-minute fight, when a fellow Homosassa angler motored up and asked if he could use the tarpon for a film he was making. Evans said sure and handed him his rod with the fish still attached. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. At nine that night, the fellow angler showed up at a local restaurant and ran into Evans. The fish had revived and the man had fought it for another three hours and failed to land it.

In the evenings, during the first weeks of their trips, when they were still fresh, Evans and Huff would go for a four-mile jog after fishing, and then out to dinner. Back at the house, they would make new leaders, using a micrometer to ensure they were legal. One year, they went through six hundred yards of leader material. They tied and re-tied flies, reusing hooks from chewed-up flies.

But as the trips wore on, nerves began to fray, legs and eyelids grew heavy, and things started to go a bit sideways. They skipped the jog. Huff’s hands got stuck in a clench and went totally numb from poling all day. He slept with them over the side of the bed to try to get the blood back in them, and it still took forty-five minutes in the morning to get full feeling back. His fingernails grew at an angle toward the pole, and still do to this day. (Dale Perez, a fellow guide, had to get operations on both of his hands after years of gripping the push pole.) One evening, Evans went out to get a pizza. He came back, put the pizza on a table, and began to tie leaders as Huff tied flies on the couch. Suddenly, Evans got a cramp in his leg and pitched forward, falling onto the pizza and breaking the table in two. “Huff just sat there and didn’t say a word and kept tying flies,” says Evans. “There is no way humans can be civil with each other with no sleep.”

Huff was demanding, on himself and on Evans. He’s often said that if he ever writes an autobiography, it will be called Just Shove It, which works for both the poling he’s done for a livelihood and his lack of patience for bullshit. He has never been a yeller, like Apte was when he was a guide. But this was a team sport. He’d pole for forty-five minutes to get Evans in a position to cast. If Evans missed, Huff would remain quiet for half an hour, and then utter, out of nowhere, “Well, you f—ed that one up.” Sometimes when Evans missed badly on a cast, Huff would say, “That fly was closer to the fish before you cast.” He poled so hard sometimes that Evans fell out of the boat and into the water. They began to call the little casting platform on Huff’s boat “the launching pad.”

And yet, Evans loved it, even craved it. He had found a guide who was very much like a demanding football coach who brought out the best in him. “We were taking it all to the absolute extreme,” says Evans. “I used to get so excited out on the water that I couldn’t breathe.”

By the late 1970s, “the sky was the limit,” says Evans. “We were doing incredible things, hitting our stride, and I was excited because I thought we could do even more incredible things as a team.”

That, as it turned out, would not be the case.

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Written by Monte Burke for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

The Unwritten Rules of Fly Fishing Etiquette

The Unwritten Rules of Fly Fishing Etiquette

Fly fishing is often a solitary sport, and many anglers like it that way. The experience of being alone on a pristine river with just a gentle breeze and the swish of the line playing out, not to mention the glory of reeling in a big one, is an almost religious endeavor for some outdoor lovers.

However, there are bound to be the encounters that are memorable for the wrong reasons—and not just because the big one that got away. Instead, it’s the fellow fishermen (and women) who sometimes are to blame for a less-than-enjoyable encounter on the water.

So, with plenty of great fishing days still up for grabs this summer and into fall, here’s a look at the unwritten rules of fly fishing etiquette. Put them to use around Wyoming or wherever else the fish are biting.

Respect the space of others.

Unless you want to catch a fly in the back—or catch plenty of flak for being the one to land a fly on someone else’s back—give your fellow fisherfolk plenty of room. If you walk down the river and find someone already there, find another spot a few runs up; generally there’s enough space for everyone. As Tim Wade, owner of North Fork Anglers in Cody, notes: “Just because someone is fishing there doesn’t mean that’s the only place to catch fish.”

If you’re staking out your spot along with other anglers, all you have to do is either quietly observe which direction they’re headed in, and plan accordingly. Or you can politely ask where they’re headed. “Communication is key,” Wade notes.

Respecting others’ space also applies to boaters, too. “Proper etiquette is to give the fisherman around you room to fish,” says Dave Crowther, a local fly fisherman and builder of custom rods. “Boat fishermen should make sure not to stop right where someone on shore is casting. There should be enough distance between the boat and shore not to overlap lines.”

Watch where you’re casting (and back-casting), too, especially in more crowded areas: Don’t be that guy (or gal) who’s yanking and whipping his line like a cowboy with a lasso.

Respect the resource, too.

Trout are fragile creatures. “It takes a long time to grow a fish in this area,” says Crowther. “A 24-inch trout can be four years old and then they only have another couple of years left to live.”

Anglers who are fishing catch and release must learn proper release techniques, as improper or sloppy handling can also mean a dead fish. Keep the fish out of the water a maximum of five or six seconds when you snap that trophy photo. Proper fish handling helps protect a delicate resource.

Keep quiet and calm.

One of the most beautiful aspects of fishing is the serene sound of the wilderness: the river, birds, and wildlife, and of course, that glorious sound of the fly whizzing through the air. Keep the peace by keeping your voice low and if you do land a big one, keep the hooting and hollering to a minimum. It’s fine to get excited about fishing, and to celebrate your catch, of course, but do it with some decorum. Similarly, if you’re fishing mid-river: Don’t splash around and stir up the water.

Don’t forget about the little things.

Keep in mind that something as seemingly insignificant as your shadow along the bank can alert the fish and disrupt someone’s fishing; walk far enough off the bank to mitigate that issue. And, if your dog won’t be winning any awards for obedience, it might be best to leave him or her home on this one. The only animals your fellow fishermen want to worry about are the ones with fins in the river.

Learn four powerful little words.

If you you spend enough time fishing, sooner or later you’ll be the at the receiving end of some of the slip-ups mentioned above. And when that happens, don’t get riled up or blow your cool. Instead, politely point out the problem, and if you’re met with resistance, here’s what you say: “You must be new.” Then smile and keep casting.

Written by Leslie Tribble for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Featured image provided by Megan Baumeister

Why Pocket Water is the Coolest Spot to Catch Summer Trout

Why Pocket Water is the Coolest Spot to Catch Summer Trout

Here’s how to pick off trout in high-water streams with a simple nymphing rig. Also, be prepared to get soaked

From the bank, I pulled the knot tight on my dropper fly and looked out over the river, which sent a quick shiver of fear knifing through my excitement, like the feeling you have before you get on a carnival ride. The river was up, hurtling foam over the boulders after one of those long summer rainstorms that leaves wisps of steam spiraling above the fields—exactly how it looked when my grade-school buddy Jo and I first fished the spot, years ago.

Jo had a reputation as a tough kid. (Nobody pointed out to Jo, for example, that only girls spell that name without the e.) The river didn’t scare him. He hiked the worm box—filled with night crawlers we’d pinched in the rain the night before—from his waist to his armpits and cinched the belt across his chest. Then he dropped in and battled the current to a rock below a roaring plunge pool.

It was when he turned and motioned for me to wade in that his sneakers began to slide, and he started flailing in vain to catch his balance. The worm box popped open. Night crawlers sailed. And in the boiling slick below, where the fat morsels plopped and raced downstream, a yellow slab rose and parted the surface.

It was the biggest trout I’d ever seen.

After that, I wasn’t scared either. I jumped in and lobbed a crawler into the slot—and the brown crashed and bolted downstream. As I leaned into the fish, my sneakers shot in opposite directions, and I rode the current downstream, rod held high above the froth. But when I finally got my footing, the fish had broken off.

Upstream, Jo was laughing. Since we were both soaked, we spent that day wading or swimming to the river’s hardest-to-reach holes—and had one of the best days of summer fishing I can remember.

Make It Easy

In midsummer, I want to be waist-deep in heavy pocket water, when the river is up and the fishing turns on. I don’t lob crawlers much anymore—not because I think I’m above it. I just think flyfishing is more fun. And summer should be fun.

Summer should also be easy. It’s a nice coincidence that if there is good rainfall, pocket water can fish well through the hotter months. By then, I need a break from all the fussing that goes with slow-water dry-fly fishing, and pocket water is the perfect antidote. It’s one of the rare things in life where you can take the easy road and not give up any success.

Nice Grab: A solid brown trout comes to hand on the Upper Madison River. Brian Grossenbacher

The easy road, from a technical fishing standpoint, is to put a strike indicator above a subsurface fly or two on a 9-foot 5X leader and walk up the middle of the river, picking pockets left and right. You can make it more complicated. You can study the water as if reading it were a form of code-breaking. But why would you? The fish are in the slower spots next to the faster spots. And eager. Make a decent drift, and they’ll usually grab your fly.

Just about any pattern that looks like trout food (and plenty that don’t) will catch fish in pocket water now, but as a general rule, I think it’s tough to beat a weighted stonefly nymph with a Muddler Minnow dropper. If there are more rainbows than browns, I’ll swap the Muddler for a Woolly Bugger. It just seems to work better. Choose a pocket or seam, wade close, and cast above it with a little flick of your wrist to drive the flies under. High-stick them through the sweet spot, then let the Muddler swing down and across before you pick it up. If the trout don’t seem active enough to chase a streamer, switch to a small nymph or wet fly. That’s it. Work fast, and cover a lot of water.

And don’t be afraid to get soaked. Put on some wet-wading shorts and jump in. This might sound crazy, but after nearly 40 years of fishing pocket water, I’m convinced that when flows run high and fast, nothing increases the number and size of the fish you catch more than simply wading aggressively. I don’t say recklessly—you need to stay safe. And I don’t wear sneakers anymore. Studded wading boots help, and a collapsible wading staff is handy in the roughest patches. Just remember that in heavy water, it’s the hard-to-reach spots that hold the neglected, and often bigger, fish. And you can’t rely on long casts to reach them. With so many intervening currents, pocket water forces you to wade close, often real close, to get a decent drift.

Redemption Time

Back on the bank, I took one step into the drink and went in to my waist, then I fought my way to the slick below the roaring plunge pool where I’d lost that huge yellow slab years ago. Halfway into the drift, my indicator stopped. But this time the fish ran upstream instead of down, and I landed it in a shallow side eddy. My tape read 23 inches—the biggest brown trout I’d ever caught in a freestone stream, along with a nice dose of redemption. And I didn’t even have to go swimming. Summer fishing doesn’t get much easier—or more fun—than that.

Gear Tip: Take it to the Top

A big dry fly, such as a Stimulator, doubles as a strike indicator in pocket water. Orvis

Midsummer can have sporadic but good surface stonefly activity. So bring a handful of big, buoyant stone imitations, like Stimulators or Sofa Pillows. Grease them up and skitter them over the soft spots about an hour before dusk, or if you see big bugs popping. You won’t catch any more fish this way, but you’ll watch some big trout roll and slash. And as long as you remember to beef up your leader to at least 3X, you’ll land a few of them too.

Written by David Hurteau for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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SIMMS Guide Classic Wader

SIMMS Guide Classic Wader

The Simms Guide Classic Wader is a best-in-class fishing wader designed for serious anglers who demand the best in performance, durability, and comfort. Made from high-quality materials, these waders are built to withstand the toughest conditions and provide reliable protection and support while you fish.

One of the standout features of the Simms Guide Classic Wader is the use of 4-layer GORE-TEX Pro Shell fabric, which provides exceptional breathability, waterproofing, and durability. The waders are also reinforced with extra layers of fabric in high-wear areas such as the knees, shins, and seat, ensuring that they will last for many seasons of use.

In terms of comfort, the Simms Guide Classic Wader features a variety of thoughtful design elements. The adjustable suspenders allow for a custom fit, while the neoprene booties provide a snug and comfortable fit for your feet. The waders also have a flip-out pocket for storing small items like tippet, and the hand warmer pockets are lined with fleece for added warmth.

Overall, the Simms Guide Classic Wader is an excellent choice for anglers who demand the best in terms of performance and comfort. While they are a bit more expensive than some other waders on the market, the quality of the materials and construction make them well worth the investment. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or just starting out, the Simms Guide Classic Wader is sure to provide years of reliable use and excellent performance on the water.


Sage Pulse 5wt Time Tested

Sage Pulse 5wt Time Tested

We’ve been fishing the Sage Pulse 5-weight for nearly 3 years now and thought we should finally tell you that you should add it to your fly fishing quiver ASAP! The Sage Pulse 5-weight rod is a high-quality fly rod designed for versatile use in freshwater environments. It’s a medium-fast action rod that offers excellent performance for anglers of all skill levels, from beginner to expert.

One feature to love in the Sage Pulse 5-weight rod is its construction. The rod is made using Sage’s KonneticHD technology, which involves a unique blend of high-modulus graphite materials that increase strength, reduce weight, and improve accuracy. This technology allows the rod to be both responsive and sensitive, making it easier to cast and detect strikes.

The Sage Pulse 5-weight rod also features a beautiful, stealthy black spruce blank that gives it a sleek, modern appearance. The rod is equipped with high-quality components, including Fuji ceramic stripper guides and hard-chromed snake guides that ensure smooth line flow and minimize friction.

When it comes to performance, the Sage Pulse 5-weight rod does not disappoint. Its medium-fast action allows for excellent line control and accuracy, making it ideal for both short and long casts. The rod has a smooth and consistent flex, which makes it easy to cast with accuracy and distance. The rod also has excellent sensitivity, making it easy to detect subtle strikes and pick up on changes in the water.

Overall, the Sage Pulse 5-weight rod is an exceptional fly rod that offers excellent performance, quality construction, and versatility. It’s a great choice for anglers who want a high-quality rod that can handle a variety of fishing situations. While it is on the higher end of the price range for 5-weight rods, the Sage Pulse is a worthwhile investment for any angler who wants a reliable and high-performing fly rod.