The following July, I found my way to his house just south of Islamorada. When I arrived Bubba and his guide had just come off the water and were cleaning up their gear. As we exchanged pleasantries, it was then I realized that Bubba's guide was none other than Rob Fordyce. I first became acquainted with Rob when he began appearing on the ground breaking fly fishing series of the 1990s, The Walkers Cay Chronicles. Flip Pallot, the host of the Walkers Cay Chronicles had Rob on as a guest a number of times over the course of its 10 plus year run. It was obvious even way back then that Rob had a serious skill set and a natural talent as both an angler and a guide, and now I was going to have the privilege of experiencing it first hand.
Spoiler alert...the fishing was really tough. We saw literally hundreds of fish, but they simply wouldn't eat. I managed to jump two, I think Bubba jumped a couple, but we didn't boat any over the course of two days. That, however, is not what this essay is about...read on.
The first day on the skiff, we cast to DOZENS of fish with very little success. It was TOUGH. Even Rob and Bubba were lamenting about the case of lockjaw these fish had contracted. Late that afternoon, after much debate about tides, fly patterns and weather conditions, the discussion turned a bit snarky when Rob insinuated something to the effect of "maybe if you knew what you were doing you would have a better chance of getting one of these fish to eat". It was a good-natured jab at Bubba ...the kind of jab that two anglers who have been fishing together for almost twenty years throw at each other regularly both on and off the water. Bubba looked back at Rob, and retorted, "well if you think you can do better why don't you get off the poling platform and come down here and show us". What I witnessed next in the span of about 10 seconds, forever altered my perception about high-performance fly fishing.
Without saying a word, Rob jammed the push pole in the sandy bottom, tied off the skiff, leaped down off the platform and grabbed the AllStar 11wt. Almost as if it were scripted, a school of large fish were making their way under the bridge and across the oceanside flat. Rob stripped more line on to the deck in anticipation of the oncoming rumble. As the string of Tarpon approached, Rob made two very quick, very concise false casts and shot almost a hundred feet of line that penetrated the stiff ocean side breeze like a laser. As the fly hit the water, he began short, smooth strips and almost immediately a five-footer broke away from the safety of the school and inhaled the fly. The water erupted as he strip set the hook, causing the fish to go completely airborne in classic Tarpon style. The fish jumped one more time and to Rob's dismay threw the hook on the second jump. Again, without so much as uttering a word he immediately handed the rod back to Bubba, jumped back up on the poling platform, and continued the hunt. Truth be known, nothing more really needed to be said. One cast, one fish, point proven.
As he and Bubba continued their "spirited" banter back and forth, I sat there in silence and tried to digest what I had just witnessed. It was almost surreal to see someone fish with such confidence, style, substance, and expertise. His casting technique was so well honed and precise that it exemplified equal extremes of both power and grace. The amount of focused energy he imparted into that fly line was absolutely obscene. At that point, I had been fly fishing for nearly a decade. I had a lot of success in both fresh water and salt water, and considered myself a better than average fly caster. That, however, was my lightbulb moment that there was a totally different level of performance out there, and that the best of the best were playing this game with a level of skill and confidence with which I simply wasn't familiar.
I have not seen or spoke to Rob since July of 2003. I doubt he remembers me, or that incident on the deck of his skiff almost 16 years ago. It was, however, one of those indelible experiences that is permanently etched into my memory banks, and still drives my desire to become not only a better caster but also a better overall angler. Rob has since gone on to much success as a Guide, Tournament fisherman, and TV show host, most recently with the hugely popular series, The SeaHunter. Having had the privilege of witnessing his talent from a front row seat on his skiff, its been a lot of fun watching his career blossom.
As for Bubba, he is now in his 70s and is still one of my best friends. This past January I spent two days with him at his farm over in East Texas. One evening as we consumed a post dinner libation around a roaring fire, I asked Bubba if he remembered that incident back in 2003. He replied, "Yes I remember it very well....but I also remember when Rob went zero for thirty in one day and the Tarpon even got the best of him!"
You can watch past seasons of The Sea Hunter here: www.robfordyce.com
Hope you all have a fantastic week!