Borski on waking up Snook, fishing for poons and the state of our fisheries. Getting inside the mind of one of our sport’s living legends
By Capt. Andrew Derr
When I think of Tim Borski, I think of spun deer hair flies that look great but more importantly catch fish. I think of his keen eye for anatomy in stylized graphic sporting art, that with one glance you know who created it. I think of wit and humor with a touch of Hunter S. Thompson’s zaney thirst for adventure. I think of guitar great, Jeff Beck and the red dot that Borski’s 8-weight rod tip accidentally left on his forehead many years ago on Thanksgiving Day. I think of a man in a canoe pushing through mangrove tunnels no wider than your fireplace.
Borski is a one of a kind thinker, visionary and an attribute to our sport in so many ways. Do right by the inherent values this sport so depends on and he’ll bend over backwards to do right by you. Miss the boat on said values, break the rules in a no motor zone, or step on the wrong side of the moral dividing line and you’re apt to poke a sleeping tiger. This is the Tim Borski that I have gotten to know and befriend over the last 10 years or so.
Fly Life Magazine had the opportunity to sit down and rap with Tim. With no goals except to begin to know what makes him tick, I found him as willing as ever to spill the beans on a range topics, liberally laced with his usual dose of insight and humor.
FLM- You love the Everglades and fish there a lot. Why your love affair with the Everglades?
TB- Ahh… Well, It ranges from fish that have their backs out of 6 inches of clean water to fish that are sleeping in 10 inches of dirty water all the way to live bait fishing in the run off of the channel that the water falls off the flat into. There is almost a good game going on all year round. As long as you tailor your choice to what is probably the best method for the day, chances are you are going to stay busy. Not just one approach, beatin’ your head against the wall if it’s not working. You can get up in the morning and listen to the computer guy on the NOAA station and he’ll tell you where to go. Listening to that computer generated voice will tell you, hey if I wanna be successful today this is what I’m gonna do. Or if that’s not what I wanna do, I say “you know I don’t feel like doin’ that today” and I pick up a paintbrush and go to work.
FLM- Some guys are gear heads and are all about the tackle. Others could care less about tweaking the details in that regard. Tell me about your general choice of tackle?
TB- Most of my rods are 8 and 9 weights. Shorter rods if I am in my canoe (8’ or 8.5’). Longer rods if I am on my skiff. Spinning rods are great, especially for snook. All you need is a handful of tube grubs. I prefer Magnum Flippin’ Tubes by Bass Pro Shops because they are affordable and readily available. That’s all you need. You need a dark one and a white one. A few of each and you’re done for the day.
FLM- How about your choice of flies, what you tie, and why you take that approach?
TB- As a fly tyer I am a tinkerer. But as a fly tyer, a father and a husband, who has mortgages, I no longer am much of a tinkerer. I know now from years of experience know what I want I fly to do and when I want it to do it. Look, if you came to my house, you’d be amazed when you looked at my boxes. You’d be appalled. I mean, everything is quality, tied quality, on quality hooks, but I am minimal. You know what I mean. Every season I give my fly boxes away and I tie fresh ones the very next season. I don’t have a bunch of different colors. On one side of the spectrum, I have black that I almost always fish. And if you don’t see me throwing it, it’s not because the fish aren’t eating it. It’s because I’m sick of looking at it. So I have black. I have white and I have tan for almost everything. There are exceptions to that but you’re going to have to work that out with someone else.
FLM- How about tides? What are your favorite tides to fish on?
TB- Where I particularly fish, the tides are wind generated or moon generated. Some places I can’t fish but a couple of times every month b/c there is just no water there. Fishing with the live bait around the bridges, north wind w/ incoming water on a snotty day is going to put a smile on your face.
FLM- Without giving away too many secrets, can you speak to how you approach your actual fishing scenarios? I mean actual encounters with individual fish.
TB- For up against the mainland and in the no motor zone, you want a fly that has a lot of movement with a very minimum amount of forward motion. So they almost all invariably include rabbit zonker strip tail, schlappen collars. Big webby schlappen collars that kind of keep that up in the surface a little bit. And most of them include a spun deer hair head, sloppily spun head that when you wiggle that line or strip it, that deer hair head goes where it wants to go. Most of the time when I am fishing in skinny water with these fish, I won’t even strip it with my hand. You just want to throw the fly ahead of the fish and manipulate that fly so it’s right on an intercept w/ that fish if he is cruising. Or you ease it up to him if he is sleeping. And then I just boink it once or twice with the rod tip and you can see the fishes reaction. Most time he’ll wake up. If you can get the fly in front of the fish w/o the fish blowing up, or feeling the boat or seeing you are someone clunking someone. We’re are not talking deceivers which is bump, bump, bump. We’re not talking clousers which is jig, jig, jig. We’re talkin’ something that splats down with a nice edible plop, like a shrimp jumping or something. Even if that fish tries not to look at that fly the first time you twitch it, still its right there in front of the fishes face and it’s not thinking that it’s a fly. And you can bump it a couple of times… maybe three bumps or even 5 bumps. You can’t pull that fly away from that strike zone with double jeopardy. Then you have to re-place it. You already got away with placing that fly there the first time. By all cost you do not want to have to try and do it a second time. There comes a time that you realize “jeez I have gotten out of his little window there.” Other time when the water is say two feet deep, you can get a little bit more aggressive with your twitches and bumps. b/c his living room is big. If he is sitting with his back out of the water and you can see his tail and dorsal, you know that his world is very small. He’s only got this little tiny rectangle that is his world. If he sees this black thing or this white thing come flying in there at the wrong speed, it’s done. It’s over. It scares them.
I tell people its like putting someone in a closet and you let a bird go in there, he is going to flinch b/c your world is so small. If you put the same person in a supermarket and let the same bird go and that bird is going to fly all over and you look up calmly and say, “Hey look, a bird.” This is because your world is larger, your window or your TV set is larger. So you have a little math to do first with the angle of the cast. And then you have a little thinking to do. For example when the fish is facing away from you and you may be thinking, I’ve got no way of getting around him w/o him feeling me b/c it’s so shallow. You still gotta make the shot. And you know what, you just ease it nice and slow, and that’s where a fly that moves slowly in the film allows you to watch it coming, to watch the fish. A lot of times it takes 20 seconds to ease the fly into position b/c of the way the fish is sitting. Lefty said years and years ago, “Flies don’t attack fish” but in other circumstances like if a fish is cruising and its broad side and you slap that thing out past him and in front of him and you bring that thing right in front of his face and as soon as he gets up to it you bump it one time aggressively and more than likely, it’s all over. It’s more about knowing the numbers than it is about being a great caster.
If you present that fly to that fish and its three feet away and you bump it. He’ll eat that fly. He is going to eat it. He makes living eating little things. But what you are doing is giving him an opportunity to refuse it. And if you do, most of the time they will refuse it. It’s not your fly. You didn’t let that fish get close enough or your cast wasn’t where it needed to be to put that fish on the spot. He didn’t necessarily refuse that fly; he just saw it in a bad way. It is no longer acceptable in most places to simply show a fish your food. You as an angler, if you want to be successful, need to show a fish the food in a good way. There is nothing simpler than that. Make sure that fish sees your food in a good way.
A fly only needs to be within reason. A small fly cannot act well on a big hook. There is a formula for that. Down here, you start with a 2 or a 4 for bones. For snook, you start with a #1 or a #1/0. Your weed guard for snook and reds is a double 16 that you snip off if you get into the little tarpon. Bonefish weed guard is a double twelve. There are just five or six hard and fast things that you need to think about. If you can do that, while you are chewing gum, you are set. Then you just need a target. Line management is crucial. You may get one good shot and if you are not ready, that is it. With some people, there is no helping. You can’t go out there and be knucklehead and be successful. For some people that is fine.
FLM- What is your opinion on the current state of fishing in the keys and the Everglades?
TB- I am not an expert at that but I’ll tell you that I see things changing for the better. Fishing today is better than it was 15 years ago. But that is not necessarily that the fishing is better but maybe I am just fishing a little smarter. I see water quality is well and good. I see the populations of fish that I fish are pretty stable. Some… fish I don’t even fish for anymore because I have a hard time finding them. And unless you are out on the water day in and day out, like some one who is working, I just need a little more bang for my buck. But when I go out fishing, I generally find fish and they are generally where they have been forever. You know, it is very seldom that I find fish where I haven’t found them before. I do notice that our shark population in the keys is going downhill. And I am sure that is not us with the fly rods or the baits that are doing it. I think that they are being waylaid somewhere else. I used to be able to make a trip across Florida Bay and have it just be covered with Lemons. Now, our tarpon fishing is as good as I remember it; certainly not as good as when the Jimmy’s and the Stu’s and everybody were throwin’ the big 4/0s at these fish. Even though no one in the world kills these fish, except for a few anomalies, there will never be more than there are right now, and there will be less. That is only because we are killing them in their nurseries. We are killing them with condos, we are killing them with land development. We are killing them with pesticides. Once they get to that stage, they want to leave and get on the trail. They are great. You know we have PTU and all of that. We will never have more tarpon than we have today and that is because we are murdering them in there nurseries. You would think that they would control planet earth by now because it’s been, 15 years or 20 years since anyone had a kill tournament for them. Look at Boca Grande where all them fish go congregate for all of those crabs and then they go offshore and do there spawning thing. Even their tournaments are using cradles to hold the fish. And their people were staunch supporters of whackin’ them. I am okay with that too. If someone wants to whack one for a record, I am okay with that. I know Diana (Rudolph) whacked one a few years back for a record and there was public outcry. What are you so pissed about. She had a tag. She paid her 48 bucks and that money is supposed to go to tarpon research. If you specifically want to target a record, then knock yourself out. That is why we have legal limits, stamps and tags. If someone takes a limit, that is okay. I don’t want to see them do that everyday because that isn’t the way the world should be. But look, I have a snook stamp. Once or twice a year if my wife says, “hey I want fresh snook”, I’ll bring an extra cooler, get some live bait, give my guy there (at the bait shop) his 12 pack, I’ll go down to the bridge and whack the first fish that fits into the slot . It goes right into the ice. That’s it. I’m done. Even when I catch 500 snook a year, I might kill one or two.