A Friend in Low Places

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The Angling Report is an acclaimed source of information about international fishing destinations, lodges and guides. The June issue featured an enthusiastic report by world-traveling angler Ira Cohen about his experiences fishing Biscayne Bay with Capt. Jorge Valverde, owner/operator of Low Places Guide Service

Cohen tipped his fishing hat to Jorge by saying, "A great guide teaches you something new, regardless of how experienced you may be. And he makes the day fun. Jorge did all that and more... Of course, he also put me on some great fish."

That's what fishing with Jorge is always like, in a really under-stated nutshell. He's one of the most knowledgeable, animated and unsung of the many veteran guides that operate in Biscayne National Park.

I called him last week to see if he had Friday open, which he did.

"Meet me at 6:30 in Homestead," he said, enthusiasm crackling through our connection.

I went to bed early but never really slept. Biscayne Bay is the big leagues for serious fly and light-tackle anglers. The fish are mostly big, wisened and intimidating. It is stalking and sight-fishing at its most challenging, for some of the biggest bonefish and permit on average in the world. As they say on those waters, landing a bonefish, permit or tarpon there isn't just a catch, it's an accomplishment.

Within a half hour of leaving the ramp, I was presented with a shot at a large school of bonefish in the six-pound range. The fish were "tailing" in about six inches of water, waving their forked tails in the golden morning light as they rooted through the bottom in search of crabs, shrimp and other invertebrates. A 60-foot cast landed the fly on the school's right edge, and a fish clobbered it on the first strip. The bonefish raced toward the little mangrove key 100 feet to the south, and loose fly line leaped off the deck. One coil caught around the casting platform, and the line snapped like a pistol shot.

The breaks continued to go in the fish's favors until the end of the day. Wind ruffled the water, which combined with a gauzy, overcast sky made seeing fish difficult, when bonefish and permit are so hard to see to begin with. The tide was rising, so the flats were too deep for the fish to give themselves away by tailing. Still, Jorge put me on fish after fish, even if they were marginal shots.

We thought for sure that we'd convert on a permit when I saw a school of them following a large nurse shark. I fired a live shrimp on target and connected with a fish. Even after 30 years of flats fishing, I'd yet to catch a permit, mostly because I've never been willing to throw anything but a fly at one. I thought I'd finally be able to put the species on my life list, but no, the species had vexed me again. It was a jack crevalle pulling hard against the light spinner, not a permit. Jack crevalle fight hard, but there's usually not much to fooling one.

Five minutes later we saw a small school of huge bones feeding in the mud left in the wake of another large nurse shark. I fired a live shrimp at the shark's tail, and a fish scarfed it instantly. It was fighting a little too close to the boat and stubbornly to be a bonefish, and we were mildly disappointed when we realized the shrimp had been hijacked by another jack crevalle.

About five o'clock, Jorge said he had a hunch about a place that was on the way home. Jorge makes a point of learning about his client's interests, and he knows that I'm fascinated by sharks. He wanted me to see this lemon shark nursury on the west side, where permit and bonefish often feed.

I was busy watching baby lemon sharks cruise through mangrove roots when Jorge twisted on top of the poling platform and fired a shrimp at a bulging wake.

"Permit!" he said, as he set the hook, beaming like a little kid while I snapped pictures. Then, a dumbfounded look crossed his face and he said, "Put that camera down and cast!"

Oddly, the rest of the school of small permit were staying with the hooked fish. I tossed the shrimp into the school and twitched it to the surface, which I understood to be is the exact opposite of what you usually do sight-casting with live bait for permit on the flats. A fish attacked it on the surface, like a jack crevalle would. The two species are closely related, and every now and then permit will forget their wariness and act more like their voracious cousin. Five minutes later we landed our double-header, and were babbling about it all the way back to the dock.

There isn't anybody I'd rather have caught my first permit with than Capt. Jorge Valverde, or another place to have done it than Biscayne Bay. Thanks, Jorge.

Biscayne Bay has a habit of serving up surprises for anglers that hire the right guide and stick with it all day. Even if you're just on a quick business trip to Miami or there for a stopover, Biscayne Bay fishing is something to experience. It's only minutes from the airport to a number of boatramps.

The June issue of The Angling Report did a good job listing a few of the area's top guides. If Jorge or the others listed are booked, they can put you in a touch with another great guide. These folks will do whatever it takes to put you on fish and make sure you have fun.

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