Mention extreme angling, and thoughts of guys battling huge bull or mako shark come to mind.
And rightly so.
Extreme angling means big fish, heavy tackle, often tough conditions and a physical battle on top of it. Or does it?
Catching bonefish or permit in water skinnier than a Venti cup of Starbucks is nothing if not extreme to the anglers who call this sport home.
Stalking a fish 400 to 500 yards, having to account for wind, work with the tide and then make a near-perfect cast is a Herculean effort.
"It's certainly a challenge," says Mike Myatt, chief operating officer for IGFA and frequent participant on the Mercury Redbone trail. "A lot of things have to go right. You need a hungry fish and a great captain just to have a shot at success [in skinny-water angling]. On top of that, it takes incredible stealth."
Guys who cut their teeth fishing the stained waters along the Louisiana, Alabama and Texas coasts can hardly fathom just how tough it is to catch skittish fish in extremely shallow water, par for the course for Key West and other south Florida locales.
Those anglers willing to stick with it, however, can be rewarded with some of the best scenery and most spectacular catches there is to be had.
Just ask Joe Bru, a Key West resident who had never had the occasion to catch a bonefish until he took part in the ESPN Saltwater Series Mercury Redfish S.L.A.M. in Key West. He describes the catch as infinitely exciting. But getting to such a point required innumerable challenges, most notably the tough cast required to present his blue crab to the feeding fish.
Fortunately, luck was on his side.
"The guide was saying, cast at 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, cast over here, cast over there," says Bru, a manager for Banana Bay Resort & Marina. "I didn't see anything. I just made a cast. It was shear luck that I caught the fish."
But even on those occassions where luck in on the angler's side, things don't always go so well.
Fishing under such tough conditions, where there are no second chances for a fish that high tails it so fast, it was like it never existed, calls for immense patience, says Myatt.
And a large measure of skill. Most of the anglers chasing these skinny-water fish are using extremely light tackle, 5- to 7-weight fly rods or spinning gear loaded with 10-pound test braid. If the light tackle doesn't sound extreme enough for you, the lengthy casts certainly have to.
"Our average cast is 60 to 70 feet, and you must be able to put that bait or lure in a spot the size of a coffee cup," says Myatt. "That's the goal. You have to put that bait in a spot where that fish doesn't even have time to think. But if you miss that dog won't hunt."
Light tackle inshore fishing attracts a certain type of angler — relentless, spare-no-expense types who'll spend hours just looking for fish and may go days without being able to make a cast.
But it's unlikely you'll ever hear one of them complain. In fact, it's this challenge, and the knowledge that not anyone can fish this way, that draws many of the anglers in.
"I'm used to bottom fishing, just dropping a bait down and hoping something hits it," says Bru. "But this type of fishing is fun. It was surreal."